Earlier this year, I composed a “Spotlight” piece on Patrick Watson where I said:
The signature sound of Patrick Watson is dreamy orchestral pop – or “orchestral indie rock” if you prefer to sound cooler – known for its deeply intricate sound layering and inclinations towards experimentation. The music has often been compared to such artists as Nick Drake, Pink Floyd, Jeff Buckley, and Arcade Fire; but I tend to think that last comparison is just lazy and based mostly on the fact that both make good music and both are from Canada. Arcade Fire creates tunes that are incredibly thoughtful and intelligent, but with a more defined rock edge. They are meatier and pack more of punch. But that is not to say that Watson doesn’t approach his music with an equal amount of thoughtfulness or that his songs do not carry weight. He does and they certainly do; but it there are many roads to Rome. And when it comes to Patrick Watson, the result is music that feels rather unearthly.
I stand by that assessment. Partly because I don’t want to reiterate what I already said (and quite eloquently, if I don’t mind saying), but also because I have a deadline here.
Adventures In Your Own Backyard is the fourth studio album by the Montreal-based group (yes, it’s an eponymously named band, not a just solo artist). The entire work was recorded in the apartment of the group’s namesake, which may come as a surprise, given the intense richness and polished maturity of the sound here. It’s an album that transports you to a sun-kissed world that is slightly surreal, but filled with the same kind of sadness as the one we, ourselves, inhabit. I hesitate to call the sound “nostalgic” because it doesn’t feel anything near an intentional effort to hop on the nostalgia trend train, nor does it read as a gimmick. That is because Patrick Watson uses his artistic intelligence wisely by showing a great deal of restraint in his orchestrations and use of experimentation. And instead of a barrage of sounds clamoring with each other for attention, everything blends harmoniously into one complete whole. There is nothing that feels extraneous and therefore, each deliberate note is absolutely necessary to the emotional journey of every track. Speaking of which…
There is an organic flow to every song; as a result, you never quite know where the melody is going to take you. That suspension of musical expectation makes for quite the disarming listening experience, none more so than on “Blackwind”, a song that twists and turns without ever losing its way or the investment of the listener. The lucid lyrics are even apt when it comes to describing the song itself:
Sometimes it blows you down
It weathers your face and leaves us no trace
And you find yourself far from home
But it’s better to lose than to stand still
You don’t blow away
From the rooftops and over the edge
Well the inside of our lives blowing around and flying out of control
Watson’s trademark voice flutters and floats along the scale, serving each of the songs on the album well. His lilting vocals even become a bit of a haunting presence at times because they are, by nature, so ethereal. In fact, his voice is more of an instrument than storyteller, often blending seamlessly with the orchestrations and disappearing just as smoothly as it appeared to impart the lyrics in the first place. This is never more evident than on the aching and beautiful indie rock waltz, “Step Out For a While”. But don’t let the delicate touch vocals fool you: there is a great deal of emotional intensity here. It’s the kind that must be broached delicately, and perhaps those gentle lilts are the only way such emotional truths can be communicated. Anything else might be unbearable. Or simply just overkill.
Another bright spot on the album is the playful and musically lush “Into Giants”. The song was released as the album’s first single back in February, and it makes for a very inviting tune. The melody is sweet and folksy, but never maudlin; and the lyrics are reflective, without being weighted down by sentimentality:
Time was running fast
While we were walking so slow
As I watched us grow and grow
We carried our love in cups to go
(Grew so tall our heads hit ceilings)
Trouble seemed so small
(Outgrew all the doors and walls)
We never needed any plans
(For ends to meet again)
It’s a charming, laid-back song that has been built upon an deeply saturated musical landscape. This is great driving-with-the window-down stuff. And while this is the kind of song that could have been a breezy throwaway, it manages to stay with you. Don’t be surprised if you find yourself humming it hours later.
On the whole, Adventures In Your Own Backyard is a musically lush album that is at times is playful and chill, while at others it is able to touch a nerve without ever being manipulative. It marks a simpler kind of sound than what we have heard in Watson’s previous three albums, but that also makes it all the more affecting and surprising.
Because this album has such an easy flow to it, it’s the kind of thing that you want put on and let it wash over you as you swing gently in a hammock on a warm summer afternoon. Oh, and if you are anything like me, your dog will be at your side in this picture as well. Okay, enough with the talking. Just listen and enjoy.