Charlemagne: Detour Allure

[9 March 2006]

By Peter Funk

After recording Charlemagne’s self titled debut entirely by himself Carl Johns must have found himself a bit on the lonely side, though perhaps the six piece band that he used to record follow up Detour Allure was less a response to personal isolation and more a need to expand the palette with which he works. Either way Detour Allure is a follow up that actually expounds on the potential that was apparent on Charlemagne. Johns is perhaps best known (at least in the UK) as the driving force behind folk-Americana project NoahJohn a band that tends towards gothic alt-country. On Charlemagne Johns began to exhibit a sugary sweet pop tooth that placed the album squarely into the realm of indie rock. Detour Allure continues to toe the indie pop line but this time out Johns has a variety of elements at his disposal that elevate this record past pedestrian and dangerously close to sublime.

The most refreshing aspect of Detour Allure is Johns use of the female backing vocals provided by Kaleen Enke and Tenaya Darlington. They’re present on nearly every song on the album and provide a welcome sonic depth to the songs. On the rollicking “Pink and Silver” the ladies fill out Johns thin voice with “do do do"s, “ooh-aaah"s and other fills that I couldn’t spell if I had to. It’s a great slice of a pop song that’s prevented from sounding merely typical (i.e. the usual suspects of chiming guitars, building chorus) by the harmonizing. On “Nematode” the female vocal takes front and center opening on the first verse before trading off and on with Johns. Again on “Your Scars”, a bouncy piece of summer pop, the song gets better with the introduction of counter point vocals and wispy “la la la"s.

While Johns’ addition of female harmonies elevates many of the songs on Detour Allure, alone they couldn’t save a terrible song from itself. The harmonies are gravy and if the meat and potatoes are rotten no matter how much you pour on they won’t save the meal. But Johns is a quality songwriter who knows his way around a hook and a melody. It helps that Johns writes songs that seem to want to be expansive. By expansive I mean that they have a tendency to want to soar. While many songwriters have a tendency to ground their songs by accident or intention, preventing them from progressing into big “c” crescendos, Johns’ writing is centered around the idea that these songs are going to launch out of your speakers gaining a metaphoric elevation before peaking and fading out.

Detour Allure is not a perfect record. Johns does have a tendency to write the same song over and over and a stylistic bent that, while a lot of fun, can be repetitive. But on the whole Detour Allure is as successful a collection of indie pop as anything that came out in 2005.

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