The stunning beauty contained on this album is something to behold. Certainly one of the best albums of 2010, and I fear my simple words won't convey what I feel in my heart.
Lexington, KY. I lived there from 1992-2000, then packed up my most important belongings, eagerly got the hell out of there, and relocated to California. The town holds many memories for me, most of them bad, some of them heartbreaking. I've been back a few times and vow to never go there again. But enough whining.
I mention this because Andrew English, the man behind Englishman, is a Lexington, KY, native. The music scene in that town has always been poor, although I spent my formative years heavily involved in it. I was even in a band. Now, Andrew English has emerged, a songwriting extraordinaire, and has made me realize that great music can come out of Lexington, or anywhere for that matter. This album, however, was recorded (on tape) in a barn in Ohio over the course of 10 days. It comes off the heels of his Taxidermy EP, and a year of touring, sharing the stage with the likes of Bonnie "Prince" Billy, Deer Tick, and Sam Quinn. This is his first full-length album, and it is one hell of a stunner.
The set begins with "Planted", like a listenable Iron & Wine, or David Mead in his folky moments. The melodies are sad and gorgeous, as they are throughout the record (aside from a few moments of, um, happiness). "Party Cancelled" is exquisite, with a prominent rhythm -- folk-pop with melancholy to spare. "Angels & Earthworms" shows off English's Kentucky roots, Americana mixed with the sounds of Jason Lytle's (Grandaddy) recent output, and a slight hint of Elliott Smith thrown in for good measure. "First Prize" departs from the folk, providing us with straight-up indie-pop, landing somewhere between Beulah (R.I.P.) and Stars.
"Boy T-Rex" continues the voyage into consistent, melodious, folk-pop Heaven, with introspective lyrics that perfectly compliment the musical despondency. "Pet Cactus" recalls Death Cab For Cutie and, oddly enough, Fleetwood Mac, with dark but strong melodies and little bits of Americana. "Hummingbirds Black Out" is the only letdown on this near-perfect album, a bit too treacly for my tastes, and lacking in melody. "Shepherd's Jaws" returns to the indie-pop realm, driven by staccato piano chords and perfect backing vocals (most likely provided by keyboardist Matt Duncan and/or honorary band member and producer Justin Craig; then again, it could just be overdubs by English).
The album ends with a trio of songs that are so flawless, so beautiful, that I don't trust my words to properly represent them. "Classically Trained" is all hushed Americana, not unlike the practically unknown Mark Erelli, dishing out mellifluous mastery as if it were the most natural thing in the world. The result is heart-stopping beauty, a perfect 10. "The Sticks" is a return to what seems to be English's signature, lovely and sad folk-pop; the extraordinary melodies are admittedly simple, but if this type of music is to your liking, you'll struggle not to get lost in it. Finally, "Funnel Of Love" completes the album on its strongest note. Every facet, every piece and part of this sparse, lonesome, Appalachian folk-inspired composition exudes perfection, exquisite and quietly revelatory.
I won't apologize for my gushing. I won't apologize for my examination of every song. If you enjoy folk, indie-pop, Americana, or just want to blanket yourself in the work of one of the best songwriters I've heard in far too long, this album is absolutely obligatory. Mr. English, I implore you to keep making music.
One last thing if you're struggling to find this record: it's available on Amazon in the US and the UK only as digital downloads. You can also download it from iTunes. If you want a physical, tangible copy of it, you can purchase it from Bandcamp.