Known for his work with the band Norfolk & Western, Adam Selzer took some time off from his main project last summer to work on some solo material. Recorded at his home in an empty bedroom and recorded on 1/4 inch 8-track machine, Selzer has created a sparse, close, and inviting amount of music for the album. Everything about this album is unplugged in its concept, from the percussion to guitars, the dulcimer to the mandolin. Selzer, who owns Type Foundry Recording, believed the studio to be “too large with too many options” to get this project off the ground. If there’s one knock against this gorgeous recording, it lies in the fact it’s just under a half hour in length.
“Far From My Lair” begins this album and right away the backing noise from the tape or some other subtle source gives this album instant intimacy. The guitar picking and texture given to the song is very similar to what Elliott Smith might be doing on any rainy Sunday morning. Selzer possesses a certain child-like innocence in his vocals. It also contains formats comparable to the Beach Boys, as well as the Beatles. “Guess I once admired / But then they all look tired”, Selzer sings as if he’s looking down at the lyric sheet. The horns, which can often be shrill or far too sharp for these types of albums, give a perfect finish. The seamless nature of the album is another asset, with “Gentrified” immediately putting Springsteen circa Nebraska in the back of one’s mind. Describing how he moved to where he is now and describing the situation, Selzer gives off an aura that Jeff Tweedy is rarely at a loss for. The flow of this song is also remarkable, clocking in effortlessly at five minutes.
“It Was Quiet” sounds a bit more forced into the singer-songwriter milieu, with a faster tempo and Selzer giving an off-kilter performance. The lyrics are very good but too often there is an inconsistency in either the guitar playing or background instruments. “Well it was quiet, it was quiet all alone”, Selzer sings before layering his vocals, giving the line an odder meaning. “This Boy” is a soft and swaying melodic lullaby that could be construed as a slow prom number if a slow brushing on drums were audible. “This boy could be happy just to love you,” Selzer sings, resigning to the fact it isn’t going to happen. “Sanctioned” falls in line with “Gentrified” as far as arrangement, but Selzer comes off far more lost in the song and in the delivery. The timing isn’t quite there, although the bells, mandolin and other instruments give off an almost lush Christmas quality. The mandolin at the end is a welcome conclusion.
The second half of this affair starts with the folk-oriented touches of “Slowness”, a tale of a country boy that is out of sorts in the Big Apple. “They’ll throw the Yiddish around like routine hoping that I’ll understand”, Selzer sings as if he’s an alien before singing some Yiddish. One negative in some of the songs is the way Selzer changes chords, with the sound of the neck being strangled a bit at times. The instrumental “Words Worth Believing” shows this too often. “A Four Year Glance” is possibly the sparest and starkest track of the ten. Bringing to mind Bob Dylan during his Blood on the Tracks era, the song is about miscommunication and stolen chances. “Unfamiliar stares they lack the silent profile that you put in your pack”, Selzer sings with his harmony vocal laid on top.
“All You Can Prepare” is a weary and tearstain induced tune you would listen to the early morning after the breakup. Although a bit questionable, it would definitely come off better as a hidden track tacked on. It has that certain careless, B-side characteristic about it. Finishing with “Privacy’s Disguise”, Selzer has made another grand album for those seeking calmer and sobering acoustic tales. They are rarely executed so well. Sometimes an acoustic guitar and old recording techniques can put to shame anything modern recording has to offer. This is such an example.
We all know how critical it is to keep independent voices alive and strong on the Internet. Please consider a donation to support our work as independent cultural critics and historians. Your donation will help PopMatters stay viable through these changing and challenging times. Thanks everyone.