Be Careful What You Call Home
leasant: it’s a damning phrase when employed in music reviews. It needs to be modified in some way to generate any interest aside from a listen, a well-meaning tossing aside, and a promise to come back a few days later never kept. Paul Duncan’s music is overwhelming pleasant. His debut album To An Ambient Hollywood, also for the Hometapes label, was a small slice of acoustic bliss, backed by warm organs and a belief in the type of listening that takes place over months, not cursory minutes.
But the experience was rewarding and it’s the same situation here: only a few months after its release, things that colored the background in initial forays pop into sharp focus today. An echoed drum pattern that coursed through the back-end of album highlight “Tired and Beholden,” still causes wonderment, the smoldering and crackling electronics on “Manhattan Shuffle” invite questions as to why they weren’t employed more often, and even the vocoder bit on “You Look Like an Animal” still brings a smile even though you know it’s coming.
Ian Mathers, in his short review of the album on this site, described one of the album’s problems as the drag of hearing a proper song followed up by an instrumental. When listening to a song like “The Night Gives No Applause,” it seems that the complaint can go both ways. Duncan is first, and foremost, a sound designer, as opposed to a lyrics writer. When he does step up to the microphone to lay down some words of wisdom, they’re often hard to make out, faintly hilarious, and of little consequence: "I'll be back in time to watch Jeopardy / After I've searched for a cause"?
It’s clear that Duncan finds himself far more comfortable crafting songs that fit the template of famous groups without the annoying side-effect of having to listen to their vocalists (Coldplay (“Toy Bass”), Mum (“Manhattan Shuffle”), Tori Amos (“Toy Piano”)). And, in many cases, he’s far better at it: it’s hard to say that album closer “Riverbed” is better for the lyrics added to its stilted waltz-like backing.
Much like To An Ambient Hollywood, Paul Duncan has put together an album of altogether pleasant numbers, instrumental and otherwise, that counter-intuitively go from familiar to strange the more time you spend with them. It’s the type of record that rewards time—an anachronism these days.