[4 August 2008]
Carpark Records take a break from their usual quirky electronica to offer straight but engaging acoustic-folk from a Cuban-born Baltimore artist called Lesser Gonzalez Alvarez. He’s part of Dan Deacon’s Wham City collective, but you couldn’t tell it by listening to Why Is Bear Billowing?, the artist’s modest debut. You can’t help but think of Devendra Banhart, with whom Alvarez shares a warbling vibrato and light tenor range. But without much of the affect, Alvarez finds a subtle beauty of his own in these acoustic arrangements. Don’t be fooled by the instrumentation. He mines simplicity for all its stark beauty in a similar, though less eviscerated, way to Phosphorescent. Songs like “A Magic” float through confluent vocal harmonies on slightly out-of-tune guitars. The imagery is a jumble of the natural, the mythical and the nonsensical. A favourite is the ship “full of spoons”. In this environment the absurdity of Edward Lear’s “The Owl and the Pussycat” makes for a nostalgic but tender ballad. Building up from simple blues or folk riffs, tunes like “All With Golden Locks” mine familiar chord progressions for new beauty. Freak-folk may be so out of fashion that it’s in fashion again, in which case Lesser Gonzalez Alvarez is onto something great. In any case, he’s good enough at it that he might just pull it off.