To An Ambient Hollywood
fter listening to To An Ambient Hollywood no less than twenty times it’s still strikingly hard to get a read on the album. The sound isn’t folk, it isn’t pop, it isn’t adult contemporary, it isn’t ambient, it isn’t any of these things- and still, it contains elements of all of them. More than any genre descriptor or artist comparison (Talk Talk, Nick Drake, Bark Psychosis, Bed all head towards it) could work towards encapsulating what Paul Duncan’s debut album is, the thing that continually comes to mind when listening here is the imagination.
“Swam An Ocean” evokes the end of a summer day- sitting, drinking a lemonade, perhaps on a porch swing. The push and the pull of the acoustic guitar melody echoing the up and the down of the swing, the ebb and the flow of the tide. A simple violin pushes you away and pulls you back in, catching you in its monotonous pull, and Duncan’s vocal encases you in a cocoon as you float merrily away. Aptly, the song doesn’t end, it merely fades into the distance.
“Call It Work” is sitting in a pick-up truck driving into the desert. A slightly jaunty acoustic guitar and drum rhythm set the pace nicely, as Duncan constructs a light country tune that neither sounds forced nor out of place within the context of the album.
The highlight, however, is early on- “Ghost of a Memory” works a jazzy drum track and a brilliantly produced chorus that ends in a bed of Paul Duncan’s voice laying the listener down to sleep or, at the very least, to a comfortable place.
And comfort is essentially the defining feeling that this record provides. By taking an entire year to construct this album, Duncan has left little to chance- but the end result is far from overproduced or approaching dreaded “trying-too-hard” territory. Duncan’s slight missteps occur when he moves towards conventional song structures. When he slips into the mode of pop songwriter, the subtle left turns and surprises that accompanies listening to “Ghost of a Memory” and the opener, “1 in 22” fall away, revealing a competent, yet merely competent songwriter. It is the hidden and the hinted at that is the joy of this record, not the stated and plain.
And luckily, Duncan doesn’t fall into the trap too many times. Instead, what we have is a beautiful little record that occupies its own personal space, waiting to be picked up, unassuming- not willing to announce itself, but more than willing to please.