Music

Greg Laswell: Landline

Laswell's fourth album shows this talented singer/songwriter's slow progression to realize his true potential.


Greg Laswell

Landline

Label: Vanguard
US Release Date: 2012-05-08
UK Release Date: 2012-04-23
Amazon
iTunes

Greg Laswell’s fourth full-length album, Landline, begins with “Come Back Down”, a super-pop duet with Sara Bareilles in which he proclaims, “All of your wallowing is unbecoming / You’ve gotta take it on your own from here / It’s getting pathetic and I’m almost done here”. It is condescending and fairly self-righteous, but not entirely untrue. I’m sure many of us have experienced moments where we indulge in self-pity or, conversely, witness those closest to us indulge in self-pity that results in self-induced stagnation. I’m sure in these instances, we reach a point of exhaustion where we want to slap the person awake, to help them get a handle on themselves. However, this type of tactic usually only works in the movies — and it’s still condescending and self-righteous. This tension of understanding something as relatively true and yet tactless in its delivery permeates throughout Laswell’s most recent effort. So much so that the listener struggles between self-awareness over being called-out, and incredulity over being lectured to. It makes a fairly accessible album, well, less accessible.

Greg Laswell can be difficult to get behind at times, and this is ever-present throughout Landline. The production is typically safe, with the occasional nuance and edge thrown in to differentiate him from other less interesting solo “sensitive” male artists. However, everything is so pristine and perfect on almost all of his recordings that it’s difficult to discern whether we’re hearing the human Greg Laswell or some pitch-perfect computerized imposter. The autotune is so glaring that nary a wrong note is heard anywhere — God forbid a wrong note may indicate that Greg is in fact fallible and thus endearing. His vocals, and much of the production, instead sounds cold and calculated as if poor Laswell is too ashamed to show his humanity. Ironic considering much of the content of Landline involves some rather poignant observations about humanity and connectedness. And although most of this would tend to gear towards a fairly bad album, much of Landline is fairly enjoyable, but perhaps not for the reasons Laswell intends.

Laswell has recruited four fairly successful female solo artists this time around, which does result in some of the albums highlights. However, this “trick” ultimately blows up in Laswell’s face as these beautiful harmonic voices only serve to amplify Laswell’s monotony on tracks where they are not featured. It puts the guy in a tough spot. On the one hand, when Barielles comes in singing an infectious harmonic melody on “Come Back Down”, you can’t help but love the tune, but the minute the second track, “I Might Drop By”, kicks in without a sensitive female artist to back him up, you miss the enigmatic touch of the previous track. “Back to You” features a complementary female presence, but isn’t as affecting as “Come Back Down” or the wonderfully upbeat “Dragging You Around” (featuring Sia). A nice balance -- Laswell recruits Sia for her propensity to sound less like a singer and more like a musical instrument come to life. It’s an uplifting turn from the more maudlin tracks on the album — of which there are plenty. However, this is not to suggest that all the maudlin tracks are too melancholy to enjoy. In fact, when Laswell gets it right, it can be the maudlin tracks that endear him most from his computerized tone.

One such tune is brilliant album closer “Landline” (with Ingrid Michealson), where Laswell sings about the necessity to stay connected in the face of isolation. It’s a simple sentiment, beautifully written and endearing despite its pitch-perfect production, especially where it reaches its emotional denouement, Michaelson offering her harmonious “All I needed would never be enough for me”. I’m sure you’ll hear it soon on a very special episode of Grey’s Anatomy, or Private Practice. And therein lies another complication with Laswell’s style: He struggles so very hard to sound so much like those that cater to the sappy “easy listening” guy-and-a-guitar Grey’s Anatomy soundtrack crowd that many times you have to strain to hear precisely how Laswell differs from artist’s such as Patrick Watson or John Mayer -- because he is different, despite how much he tries to make himself the same. It’s a shame sometimes to hear an enjoyable and soulful singer rest on clichéd tropes of sensitive lite-pop/rock.

Ultimately, Landline is a small step forward for Laswell that won’t result in super-stardom, but may help him tack on to a television soundtrack that could give him bigger exposure. It’s unfortunate to see a superbly talented singer/songwriter who is an affecting lyricist to boot try his hardest to sound like so many others. Luckily, his allure shines through, regardless of how much he tries to squash it. Laswell has the capacity to break through and produce a wonderful piece of work. He just hasn’t done that yet.

6

To be a migrant worker in America is to relearn the basic skills of living. Imagine doing that in your 60s and 70s, when you thought you'd be retired.


Nomadland: Surviving America in the Twenty-First Century

Publisher: W. W. Norton
Author: Jessica Bruder
Publication date: 2017-09
Amazon

There's been much hand-wringing over the state of the American economy in recent years. After the 2008 financial crisis upended middle-class families, we now live with regular media reports of recovery and growth -- as well as rising inequality and decreased social mobility. We ponder what kind of future we're creating for our children, while generally failing to consider who has already fallen between the gaps.

Keep reading... Show less
7
Music

The World of Captain Beefheart: An Interview with Gary Lucas and Nona Hendryx

Gary Lucas and Nona Hendryx (photo © Michael DelSol courtesy of Howlin' Wuelf Media)

Guitarist and band leader Gary Lucas and veteran vocalist Nona Hendryx pay tribute to one of rock's originals in this interview with PopMatters.

From the opening bars of "Suction Prints", we knew we had entered The World of Captain Beefheart and that was exactly where we wanted to be. There it was, that unmistakable fast 'n bulbous sound, the sudden shifts of meter and tempo, the slithery and stinging slide guitar in tandem with propulsive bass, the polyrhythmic drumming giving the music a swing unlike any other rock band.

Keep reading... Show less

From Haircut 100 to his own modern pop stylings, Nick Heyward is loving this new phase of his career, experimenting with genre with the giddy glee of a true pop music nerd.

In 1982, Nick Heyward was a major star in the UK.

As the leader of pop sensations Haircut 100, he found himself loved by every teenage girl in the land. It's easy to see why, as Haircut 100 were a group of chaps so wholesome, they could have stepped from the pages of Lisa Simpson's "Non-Threatening Boys" magazine. They resembled a Benetton knitwear advert and played a type of quirky, pop-funk that propelled them into every transistor radio in Great Britain.

Keep reading... Show less

Kehr was one of the best long-form essay writers people read for clear and sometimes brutally honest indictments of film.

It's perhaps too trite and rash to conclude that the age of good, cogent film criticism is over. They still exist out there, always at print publications such as The New Yorker and at major newspapers like The New York Times. An argument can be made that the late, legendary film critic Roger Ebert became a better writer when he departed from cinema and covered literature, book collecting, or even the simplest pleasures of life. If we look at the film criticism of James Agee from the '40s, or even the short but relevant stint of novelist and short story writer Graham Greene as a film critic, we come to understand that the greatest writing about film went beyond the spectrum of what they saw on the screen.
Keep reading... Show less
8

This book offers a poignant and jarring reminder not just of the resilience of the human spirit, but also of its ability to seek solace in the materiality of one's present.

Marcelino Truong launched his autobiographical account of growing up in Saigon during the Vietnam War with the acclaimed graphic novel Such a Lovely Little War: Saigon 1961-63, originally published in French in 2012 and in English translation in 2016. That book concluded with his family's permanent relocation to London, England, as the chaos and bloodshed back home intensified.

Now Truong continues the tale with Saigon Calling: London 1963-75 (originally published in French in 2015), which follows the experiences of his family after they seek refuge in Europe. It offers a poignant illustration of what life was like for a family of refugees from the war, and from the perspective of young children (granted, Truong's family were a privileged and upper class set of refugees, well-connected with South Vietnamese and European elites). While relatives and friends struggle to survive amid the bombs and street warfare of Vietnam, the displaced narrator and his siblings find their attention consumed by the latest fashion and music trends in London. The book offers a poignant and jarring reminder not just of the resilience of the human spirit, but also of its ability to seek solace in the materiality of one's present.

Keep reading... Show less
8
Pop Ten
Mixed Media
PM Picks

© 1999-2017 Popmatters.com. All rights reserved.
Popmatters is wholly independently owned and operated.

rating-image