Monday, February 9, 2009

Review: Liam Finn - I'll Be Lightning (* * * *)

I've heard it said that 2008 was a bad year for music. I'm not sure that I ever agreed, and my resentment of that statement grows with each musical gem I find that somehow went undiscovered (at least by me) during last year. My latest find, Liam Finn, is the son of Crowded House member Neil Finn, which garnered him some attention last year, though too little in my opinion. Finn's debut, I'll Be Lightning, is a sprawling pop-folk record that is packed with well-crafted tunes and a fresh style. The album was released in January of 2008 in the States, and earlier in New Zealand and Australia.

The opening track, "Better To Be," combines a fuzzy bass line, shimmering guitars, and soft falsetto harmonies in one of several Beatles-esque pop moments found on the record. Yes, I understand that many people sound like the Beatles, or want to sound like the Beatles, but Finn manages to harness the spirit of classic pop music without sounding like a tribute band. Like the aforementioned song, Finn's music is sometimes upbeat and direct, such as the driving, haunting "Second Chance," the freak-folk number, "Lead Balloon," and the rocker, "This Palce Is Killing Me." Much of the time, however, he dabbles in folk-centered, psychedelically-tinged pop that moves along at a somewhat slower pace. "Gather To The Chapel" is a graceful piece with acoustic guitars, brushed drums, and subtle electric guitar effects swirling lightly around Finn's crisp tenor voice, while "Lullaby" eschews common instruments for an a eerie, yet gentle a capella choir (probably all Finn) backed by just a touch of strings near the end.

Highlights and personal favorites of mine include some of Finn's less experimental moments, though there truly are no weak tracks on 'Lightning." In fact, what makes the record interesting is Finn's need to make what could be easily accessible music just a tad harder to digest. However, when the melodies the and lyrics shine clearly through the haze (as they tend to do here), the results are fantastic. The mid-tempo folk tune "Energy Spent," which bounces along on a great drum/guitar combination seems endlessly re-playable, and "Wise Men," is a beautiful song both sweeping and intimate full of hooks that stick with you.

At 14 tracks and 53 minutes, the album is probably too long, but I'm at a loss to suggest which tunes should go, so I'll be more than satisfied with the excess. Liam Finn shows remarkable songwriting and musicianship on I'll Be Lightning, which, when combined with an abundance of musical ideas, makes for one thoroughly great record.