New Great Lakes strives to be sad, but its sparkling acoustic-based pop never works itself past a brooding mid-tempo.
New Great Lakes, singer-songwriter Paul Hiraga's fourth album under the moniker Downpilot, feels isolated. He recorded it mostly alone on Vashon Island in the Puget Sound, and you can feel the torpor of dull clouds and gray water on all sides of these languid tunes. Perhaps because of the location , the album sounds as if Hiraga is downright obsessed with water. Waves and rivers and water's edges are constantly mentioned, and seem to bear some serious symbolic import, though what that is, exactly, can be tough to parse out. What we do know is that the elements play a huge role, especially on "Edge of the Flood", "NY Storms", and the title track.. They displace people emotionally and psychically, or they keep lost people adrift. Why anyone is adrift here, what brings the subjects of these songs to such melancholy is never examined. Instead, New Great Lakes is an album fascinated with its own sound, with making that melancholy as shimmering and pristine as possible. It can work -- note the strings and lilting vocals that fill up the title song -- but mostly these are sparkling acoustic-based pop tunes that never push themselves past a brooding mid-tempo. They strive to be sad, but can't poke holes in their own veneers, so any storm or squall you encounter here comes off as little more than a simulation.