As the name might suggest (Spanish for “single”), Soltero definitely feels like a one-man project. Despite the list of musicians that played on Science Will Figure You Out, the stripped-down loneliness contained in these songs is obviously of front man Tim Howard. Even though he may claim Soltero is a band, this is definitely his project and his project alone.
While what Howard does with his music is at times touching and fun, it is fairly thin, even for all of the other people involved. With bare instrumentation and a mostly acoustic mindset, Science Will Figure You Out has a certain coffeehouse claustrophobia to it. The personal stories Soltero tells are a bit timid, but still maintain a level of intimacy. Howard’s generally hushed vocals are delivered half-sung, as if he doesn’t quite have enough confidence to sell what he’s singing about.
This insecurity could become tiresome, but Howard balances it with an ample sense of humor, from the silly country-inspired “Laundrydaydreams” to the bright melody of “Poughkeepsie’s Always Proud”. Although Howard’s subject matter remains bleak, he saves Science Will Figure You Out from being about total self-loathing by injecting a sense of hope.
While Howard’s lyrics are usually insightful and understatedly poignant, like his assertion of “I’ve been a fool for less than love / I can’t pretend it’s always worth it” from “I am Sitting in a Room”, he can sometimes be a bit too clever for his own good. “Communist Love Song” compares a love affair to communism as he sings, “It was well-conceived in theory / But it doesn’t work in life”. Soltero works better when Howard is more matter-of-fact in what he has to say. The music is so unadulterated that any attempts at cute word play tend to fall flat.
In spite of Soltero obviously being the personal project of Howard, the musicians he has assembled for Science Will Figure You Out give him a more substantial base for his music. Howard himself plays guitar and some of the keyboards, but with the help of musicians Ben Sterling, Peter Sax, and Noam Schatz (who themselves form The Mobius Band), Howard’s songs are given a fuller, warmer sound. He’s no longer just a boy alone in a room with a guitar. Still, Howard is the most obvious element to Soltero, and the other musicians are mostly relegated to backing him up. There doesn’t seem to be much of a connection between Howard and the Mobius Band, and this keeps Science Will Figure You Out from working as an album by a band. Taken as solo album, however, it’s fantastic.
Science Will Figure You Out is a pleasant enough, but Soltero doesn’t hold up as a band, mostly because it really isn’t. Tim Howard has some things to say with his music, but this album at times feels like it’s trying to be something it’s not. As a solo artist, his stories are likable and relatable, but his vision doesn’t extend beyond himself to his bandmates. This is where Science Will Figure You Out begins to fail. It’s not a solo album, but it’s not really anything else.
Published at: http://www.popmatters.com/pm/review/soltero-science/