Another release from Le Grand Magistery in the cool, stylistically abundant pop vein. Another release from Kevin Wright, whose Mr. Wright has put out two previous albums of this same sound. On that note, it might be difficult to find anything else to say about the album.
But that would be cop out on my part. There’s really a lush, thick quality to the quiet music here that is worthy of attention and some verbiage. Acoustic lounge electronica. Chamber pop. Post-New Romantic, goth tinged, subdued Nick Cave meets Nick Drake. It’s simply difficult to find the right words. This is due in part to the minimalist qualities that permeate this album. They are in direct contradiction to the soupy blends of sounds that work their way beneath the surface of these tracks, emerging only briefly for the necessary hook, and then diving back down once more to create the underlying ambience. I hate to rule by comparison, but the twee darlings Belle and Sebastian come to mind a bit while listening to this disc. However, although I doubt B&S have ever been described as being particularly upbeat, this is like Belle and Sebastian on a heavy dose of laudanum.
This dirge-like quality has less to do with the music, which at moments (“Coming Home”) has nearly cheerful qualities, than it does with Wright’s voice. Not only does Wright almost exclusively adopt long, deep, drawn-out notes but he sings at an interminable pacing that is infuriating at times. Imagine Roger Waters singing the opening to “Us and Them” for an entire album’s worth of songs. Take “Ocean Boulevard” for example: “Many years from / (beat, beat, beat, beat) / This time we live in / (beat, beat, beat, beat) . . .” At times you just want to yell, “Spit it out, you bastard!” Which is a shame, because Wright’s voice is enticing enough in its gothy, dramatic depths that it could be put to some good use. But having to wait a full measure between each line of a verse or a chorus just makes the otherwise passable lyrics seem like torture. We won’t even discuss the painful moments that his voice croaks like a pubescent male on “Missing You Still” and “Voyage”.
As thematic elements go, the songs on this album fit the title. Wistful, lonely, abandoned emotions drip from each track. Ocean imagery is returned to enough times to make an emo band blush, but there’s nothing here to indicate that this is some kind of concept album. There’s no sense of camp or high drama like you might get out Morrissey. Kevin Wright is simply maudlin, and that’s what he sings about.
After all that, it might seem like I don’t like this album. In fact, I don’t really want to. But there’s something insanely compelling about the musical compositions. As stated earlier, there’s the occasional burst of instrumentation to complete some killer hooks, particularly the brief electric piano flourish in “Ocean Boulevard”. But there are also the hushed repetitions. A particular chord progression is played with a looping insistence. A certain refrain drones on an on. A guitar is plucked at one unwavering note per beat for an entire song’s length. A drum fills the low end with an unchanging echo. Individually, these things would be completely irritating, but Wright actually builds these songs, and the somnambulistic pacing actually allows each element to be appreciated as part of a composition. On the one hand, these songs quickly lose your direct attention, but as soon as your mind wanders, a particular element changes or surfaces just enough to draw your notice and reel you back in.
Although I don’t have a particular problem with Wright’s ability as a writer of lyrics, the overwhelming strength of the music paired with the painful dullness of the singing makes the album something difficult to pick up with anticipation. I’d hate to suggest that Wright abandon the microphone for a purely instrumental direction, but at the very least he should think about making Mr. Wright a collaborative effort and hiring himself a singer. There’s a lot to marvel at in Hello Is Anyone Out There, but it’s tempered by how much there is to cringe at as well.