A German by birth and currently a resident of Stockholm Sweden, Johannes Mayer has recorded four albums to date (Leaving Notes, You Already Have a Home, Pale Morning Light and his latest, Golden), all branded under the aegis of his alter ego the Late Call. However Golden may be the one to bring him wider awareness. It finds Mayer returning home to Germany for the recording – to a studio in Bremen, to be exact. It also sees Mayer expanding his musical palette as a means of accommodating an actual band, one that finds him up front on guitar and vocals, Patric Thorman playing bass and Hammond organ, Henrik Roger providing piano and Mellotron, and Lars Plogschties anchoring the proceedings on drums and percussion.
Mayer’s hired hands aside, Golden more or less picks up where Pale Morning Light left up, emphasizing and expanding on the pastoral imagery that’s characterized each of the earlier outings and elevating the hushed, twilight ambiance that’s clearly become so essential to their sound. To be sure, the presence of additional musicians eliminates some of the more elusive elements of past recordings, but that supple, sublime aesthetic still remains intact.
While it may be a bit of a stretch – and even an injustice—to call Mayer’s music strictly folk rock, there’s no doubt that comparisons to the hushed, emotive sound of Nick Drake will come immediately to mind. However, if Drake was the only point of reference then the Late Call might rightfully be relegated to a pack of also-rans, given that that troubled troubadour is an all too often common basis of comparison for any shadowy ensemble. Suffice it to say that in its own way, the Late Call’s sound is somewhat more emphatic, if only for the fact that it makes a more immediate impact. While the melodies may be fleeting, the arrangements leave a lingering impression. The rousing, beguiling and beautiful lead-off track “Carry” provides instant infatuation, as does the graceful rallying cry of “Ghost World” and the supple shuffle of “The Pact”. “White Moon” is uncommonly propulsive, while “Pickpocket” provides the forward thrust to offset any of the usual lethargy. Likewise, the easy sway of the title track gives the album a pop presence that may signal that Mayer is readying the band for prime time.
That said, there’s nothing phony or farcical attached to Maye’’s muse, but rather a careful attention to detail, to emotional symmetry and to creating specific sound suggestion through its evocative aural imagery. The melodies are precise, the instrumentation spare, the lyrical sentiment spun from bittersweet reflection. Songs like “Telling Stories” and “Leave No Trace” find Mayer in full contemplative mode, a place the Late Call are clearly most fond of. Both sensitive and seductive to a fault, they’re the kind of outfit that’s able to transport the listener to another plane – a safer, more idyllic locale – where trouble and despair may not dissipate entirely, but serenity reigns regardless.