I’ll take any opportunity I can get to defend the contemporary singer-songwriter, who has endured years of verbal lashings ever since John Lennon unleashed the confessional Plastic Ono Band. The angsty, poseur whining of rock outfits like Linkin Park is far more unbearable to me than, say, Ryan Adams’ most trying moments. The term “singer-songwriter” has become demonized to the point where it’s synonymous with “sensitive”, like the bearer of such an unfortunate label is reserved to battle with the subdued din of a coffee bar. It’s a fairly useless and meaningless term, too, even if writers like me are guilty of keeping its flaccid body alive for ease’s sake; quite literally, anyone who writes a song and sings it—whether it’s James Taylor or a guy in Gwar—is a singer-songwriter.
So, as I said, I defend these folks, a task made all the more difficult when a songwriter as insubstantial as Griffin House comes along to provide my opposition with more ammunition. Records like House’s Lost & Found cause me to temporarily reverse my argument while they remain unfortunately lodged in my brain.
To House’s credit, he’s only 24 years old and didn’t even begin playing a guitar or writing songs until he was in college. He’s got that going for him. And the album’s production often smothers his voice and guitar in intrusive amounts of reverb. But there’s precious little to defend or support on Lost & Found, regardless of the inexplicable fact that Nettwerk Records thought otherwise. House is still stuck in that phase of inherited imitation, and hasn’t found a way to transcend his many influences. As a result, Lost & Found plods through a small selection of masks, offering up false poetics in search of profound revelations, and consequently wallows, prosaically, in redundancies.
House really tries to best his own instincts with “Tell Me a Lie”, which benefits from a wrinkled vocal performance uncharacteristic from the rest of the record. “Blame it on the way that I talk / You can blame it on the way that I look,” House manages to eke out, sounding physically exhausted to the point of giving up, “You can blame it on the stuff that I drank and the pills that I took.” If the song’s notable for its attempt to be interesting, it’s equally notable as one of House’s many Ryan Adams impressions. Said impression rears its unwelcome head on the album-opener “Amsterdam” and “Ah Me”; unfortunately, House’s best moments reflect Adams’ worst.
“Waterfall” attempts to channel Jeff Buckley’s effortless vocal flirtations, but it’s nothing but anemic pandering. House aches freely on tape, but we as listeners bear the burden of all that aching: “Waste another Day” documents “the morning after you and I give in” with giant cymbal rolls for dramatic effect; in “Why Don’t You Believe?” House drearily spouts “I’ve been redeemed but still got the blues”; and “Just a Dream” boasts the cringe-worthy “I hang here before you / Though invisible the noose”. Best yet, the closing track “New Day” lays claim to perhaps the worst line on record this year: “A new day will come / When the children will run and laugh with the sun”. Such agonizing mediocrity makes Dave Matthews look like Bob Dylan.
House surely possesses a unique outlook on life, so perhaps he hasn’t figured out a way to channel that into his songs. His imitation may flatter its sources, but it certainly doesn’t flatter him. Lost & Found is far too tiresome and uninteresting to really make any significant dent in a discerning listener’s library. With any luck, House will find his own voice one of these days and save future albums from ending up another casualty in the cut-out bins of the world.