Music

Ben Ottewell: Shapes & Shadows

Shapes & Shadows shows us that Ben Ottewell is so thoroughly immersed in Gomez that he cannot conceive of anything beyond it, try as he might.


Ben Ottewell

Shapes & Shadows

Label: ATO
US Release Date: 2011-02-15
UK Release Date: 2011-02-07
Website
Amazon page
Amazon
iTunes

There may be no type of LP more inherently contentious to audiophiles than solo albums by erstwhile members of beloved acts, especially if said act has not already parted ways. The very choice to craft an album without the sanctioned imprimatur of the known quantity smacks of rebellion, dissatisfaction, or at the very least, of artistic wanderlust. Depending on the nature of the original collaborative project, making an album outside of its confines can invite doubt in the viability of said project. What is it about your original band, a devil's advocate may conjecture, that precludes this particular portion of your vision from being run through its musical machinery?

To the extent that an argument can be made in favor of such solo albums, its linchpin would be that whatever the artist chooses to express on his or her breakaway effort, it should be clearly distinct from the established discourse of his or her collaborative work. "Making it new" tends to be the fundamental tenet of any product of creative integrity (and we can argue over whether it should be on another fine day), but notable solo work requires additional newness, the more radical or tangential, the better. This is quite evident in indie rock, where it seems that every buzz band of wider appeal includes members who want to make country albums or indulge in experimental electronic side projects.

In the case of the British mindie combo Gomez, the group's chosen aesthetic has never really shown a predilection to shut out tangential ideas; electronic freak-outs are able to coexist with sensitive acoustic balladry, sometimes in the space of a single track. Despite this, both halves of Gomez's main songwriting duo have now released solo records. Ian Ball's Who Goes There came out in 2007, and indeed his charming collection of indulgent, rambling pop songs constituted a subtle but definite departure from the American-derived style of his main band.

And now follows Shapes & Shadows, the decidedly low-key solo debut from Ben Ottewell, the bronze-voiced McCartney to Ball's fickle Lennon (Gomez's third writer/vocalist Tom Gray makes for a more gregarious and less thoughtful George Harrison, but I won't do the band's rhythm section the disservice of appointing them the Ringo proxies). Although Ottewell's formidable pipes are Gomez's signature attraction, the Eiffel Tower of their City of Light, his songs have never been quite as indelible as the voice that sings them.

Shapes & Shadows reconfirms this impression at some point on each of its nine tracks. Indeed, the record doesn't really pass the muster of the solo-album criteria cited above. Reflective as they are, any of these songs could be folded seamlessly into the breast of Ottewell's original band; any dedicated Gomez fan ought to count Ottewell-sung ballads like "Free to Run", "There It Was" or "Bone Tired" among their high water marks in the band's oeuvre, and any of those tracks would fit into the awestruck aesthetic of this album. If Ian Ball's earlier solo effort elaborated in impressive detail on ideas merely hinted at on proper Gomez records, Shapes & Shadows shows us that Ben Ottewell is so thoroughly immersed in Gomez that he cannot conceive of anything beyond it, try as he might.

The record does have its pleasures, and they are revealed like so many hazy recollections of dormant glory. The mildly audacious incorporation of the words "corpus callosum" into the otherwise unsurprising "Lightbulbs" gives the song a curious quality. "Blackbird" may not live up to its seminal namesake, but Ottewell and his accompanying chamber strings take the opportunity to conjure some bluesy rhythm alongside the ever-present folky ethereal-ity. And "Chicago" is the beating, shining heart of this foggy record, a lovely and poetic vision that glows with warmth and regret.

But even these occasional moments of flickering light can't save Shapes & Shadows from the dank gullies of pretty mediocrity. It left me wondering why Ottewell felt compelled to make it rather than merely preserve its purest essences and adapt them to a more Gomez-able form. But even this wondering had no verve to it. There's precious little worth caring passionately about here. It's rather far from being a poor album, but there’s no real argument to be made for the existence of as a standalone work. For that, a bit more tangential newness should be expected, but Ben Ottewell is disinclined to provide it.

5

Music

Books

Film

Recent
Music

A Certain Ratio Return with a Message of Hope on 'ACR Loco'

Inspired by 2019's career-spanning box set, legendary Manchester post-punkers A Certain Ratio return with their first new album in 12 years, ACR Loco.

Books

Oscar Hijuelos' 'Mambo Kings Play the Songs of Love' Dances On

Oscar Hijuelos' dizzyingly ambitious foot-tapping family epic, Mambo Kings Play the Songs of Love, opened the door for Latinx writers to tell their stories in all their richness.

Music

PM Picks Playlist 2: Bamboo Smoke, LIA ICES, SOUNDQ

PopMatters Picks Playlist features the electropop of Bamboo Smoke, LIA ICES' stunning dream folk, Polish producer SOUNDQ, the indie pop of Pylon Heights, a timely message from Exit Kid, and Natalie McCool's latest alt-pop banger.

Film

'Lost Girls and Love Hotels' and Finding Comfort in Sadness

William Olsson's Lost Girls and Love Hotels finds optimism in its message that life tears us apart and puts us back together again differently.

Music

Bright Eyes' 'Down in the Weeds' Is a Return to Form and a Statement of Hope

Bright Eyes may not technically be emo, but they are transcendently expressive, beatifically melancholic. Down in the Weeds is just the statement of grounding that we need as a respite from the churning chaos around us.

Film

Audrey Hepburn + Rome = Grace, Class, and Beauty

William Wyler's Roman Holiday crosses the postcard genre with a hardy trope: Old World royalty seeks escape from stuffy, ritual-bound, lives for a fling with the modern world, especially with Americans.

Music

Colombia's Simón Mejía Plugs Into the Natural World on 'Mirla'

Bomba Estéreo founder Simón Mejía electrifies nature for a different kind of jungle music on his debut solo album, Mirla.

Music

The Flaming Lips Reimagine Tom Petty's Life in Oklahoma on 'American Head'

The Flaming Lips' American Head is a trip, a journey to the past that one doesn't want to return to but never wants to forget.

Music

Tim Bowness of No-Man Discusses Thematic Ambition Amongst Social Division

With the release of his seventh solo album, Late Night Laments, Tim Bowness explores global tensions and considers how musicians can best foster mutual understanding in times of social unrest.

Music

Angel Olsen Creates a 'Whole New Mess'

No one would call Angel Olsen's Whole New Mess a pretty album. It's much too stark. But there's something riveting about the way Olsen coos to herself that's soft and comforting.

Film

What 'O Brother, Where Art Thou?' Gets Right (and Wrong) About America

Telling the tale of the cyclops through the lens of high and low culture, in O'Brother, Where Art Thou? the Coens hammer home a fatalistic criticism about the ways that commerce, violence, and cosmetic Christianity prevail in American society .

Music

Masma Dream World Go Global and Trippy on "Sundown Forest" (premiere)

Dancer, healer, musician Devi Mambouka shares the trippy "Sundown Forest", which takes listeners deep into the subconscious and onto a healing path.

Music

Alright Alright's "Don't Worry" Is an Ode for Unity in Troubling Times (premiere)

Alright Alright's "Don't Worry" is a gentle, prayerful tune that depicts the heart of their upcoming album, Crucible.

Music

'What a Fantastic Death Abyss': David Bowie's 'Outside' at 25

David Bowie's Outside signaled the end of him as a slick pop star and his reintroduction as a ragged-edged arty agitator.

Music

Dream Folk's Wolf & Moon Awaken the Senses with "Eyes Closed" (premiere)

Berlin's Wolf & Moon are an indie folk duo with a dream pop streak. "Eyes Closed" highlights this aspect as the act create a deep sense of atmosphere and mood with the most minimal of tools.

Television

Ranking the Seasons of 'The Wire'

Years after its conclusion, The Wire continues to top best-of-TV lists. With each season's unique story arc, each viewer is likely to have favorites.

Film

Paul Reni's Silent Film 'The Man Who Laughs' Is Serious Cinema

There's so much tragedy present, so many skullduggeries afoot, and so many cruel and vindictive characters in attendance that a sad and heartbreaking ending seems to be an obvious given in Paul Reni's silent film, The Man Who Laughs.

Music

The Grahams Tell Their Daughter "Don't Give Your Heart Away" (premiere)

The Grahams' sweet-sounding "Don't Give Your Heart Away" is rooted in struggle, inspired by the couples' complicated journey leading up to their daughter's birth.


Reviews
Collapse Expand Reviews



Features
Collapse Expand Features

PM Picks
Collapse Expand Pm Picks

© 1999-2020 PopMatters.com. All rights reserved.
PopMatters is wholly independent, women-owned and operated.