ow To Piss A Thesaurus Up The Wall, 101; take a copy of Damon Aaron’s Ballast, play liberally and then embark on a futile bout of lexical tail-chasing as you endeavour to find adequate adjectives with which to catalogue his stunning, burnt sugar vocals. Extra credit will be rewarded for use of alliteration, didactic comparisons and convincing incorporation of the three part rhetorical structure…
Proving that hoary urban proverbs can still be dispensed with a modicum of relevance, Damon Aaron is the latest artist to add credence to the age-old notion that if you wait long enough for a decent left-leaning soul voice to arrive, chances are three will come along at once. Sod’s law, innit? Alongside Warp’s Jamie Lidell and Ninja Tune’s Dwight Trible, Aaron has been hovering around various studios for years now and (like his aforementioned peers) has deemed the time right to unleash a lustrous LP which fully showcases his honeyed larynx. Yet, whilst putting out an album during a particularly fertile period can lend a sense of cohesion and artistic momentum to a release, when the competition is as blindingly accomplished as Lidell’s Multiply, you better make sure your work is precision tooled for the fight of its life.
With a CV that boasts a founding membership of Telefon Tel Aviv and recent collaborative ventures with Robert Lippok and Barbara Morgenstern, you could be forgiven for expecting Ballast to pursue an overtly tronic-centred backdrop with which to frame Aaron’s voice. But you’d be wrong. Having provided last year’s Telefon Tel Aviv A Map of What Is Effortless with a pestiferous vial of effluent melancholy, Aaron’s vocal performance also unequivocally asserted the album’s highlight on “I Lied.” Proving that the perennial myth concerning Europe’s position as chief electronic cabal has been well and truly breached, “I Lied” was an almost perfect blend of strings, silicon and sweat soul that would provide a tough act to follow for anyone—Damon Aaron included.
Eschewing the lush glitch palates of Styrofoam, The Go Find, Boy In Static etc., Aaron has instead opted for a relatively sparse, but warmly hued, selection of folk-inflected instrumentation that performs its purpose with aplomb; chiefly, not overcrowding his gorgeous voice. Opening with a blessedly short piece entitled “Intro” (aka ‘unhelpful noodling’), Ballast soon hits its stride with the irresistible “Road Maps.” Unquestionably the album’s creative peak, “Road Maps” successfully distils the magic of “I Lied” then rebuilds it on a Twisted Nerve foundation which bears more than a passing resemblance to Badly Drawn Boy’s “Year of the Rat.” Yet whereas Damon Gough littered his composition with florid strings and the dreaded kiddie choir, Aaron seems content to dish up par boiled (some may say whimsical) production that’s only really motivation is to take your ear by the hand and cordially introduce it to his exquisite voice. With lyrics that come across both lumpy and naïve to these British English ears (“maybe we read it wrong, it don’t matter now it’s done, it’s always good to get out, even on an unintended route”), Aaron nonetheless invests them with an undeniable majesty and weary pathos that would render the recitation of a Tesco till receipt a thrilling oratory experience. Honest.
Oozing charm and soul, Damon Aaron’s voice (which inexplicably brings to mind butterscotch…) continues to elevate what in other hands could have been humdrum into something of profound beauty. So whilst “Freedom” apparently plagiarises the same self-help manuals as Chris Martin (“Show me the way to freedom, I need something to believe in”) over a cheeky Bonnie Tyler melody, and “All I Need” stoops to anaemic singer-songwriter production ( © James Blunt), neither are bad songs at all thanks to Aaron’s fervent and perennially sun-blushed vocals. Whilst this may appear to be damning with faint praise, it is in fact anything but; with Aaron’s off-kilter intonation and veneered delivery a genuine gift that deserves (if not demands) the attention of anyone who strays within earshot. The odd iffy lyric and patch of underdeveloped instrumentation can surely be excused when drawn into focus against the album’s true focal point.
Closing with the Elliot Smith indebted “Out in the Rain” (the type of song which conjures an awful lot from a palate of nothing), Ballast certainly has its faults, yet nonetheless transcends its limitations to produce the perfect platform for Aaron’s enthralling vocal style. Possibly overwhelming in one sitting, Ballast is still a gem studded treat that can’t help but captivate you fully when in its presence, whilst spinning an enthralling web of conjecture as to what Aaron could achieve were he to ditch the sand bags and really fly. Up, up and away in a beautiful balloon, no doubt…
Reviewed by: Adam Park
Reviewed on: 2005-07-28