Music

Gentleman Reg: Jet Black / Little Buildings

Gentleman Reg makes his introduction to the world beyond Canada with two releases, a past-works compilation and his new album proper -- a work that finally displays real maturity.


Gentleman Reg

Jet Black

Label: Arts & Crafts
US Release Date: 2008-02-24
UK Release Date: 2008-02-24
Amazon
iTunes

Gentleman Reg

Little Buildings

Label: Arts & Crafts
US Release Date: 2008-11-11
UK Release Date: 2008-11-11
Amazon
iTunes

The stage name of singer-songwriter Reg Vermue, Gentleman Reg, could not have been chosen more appropriately. Over the course of his first three albums, Reg made tuneful folk-pop of the most polite, unobtrusive variety. Stately in the popular mode of post-millennial indie-rock's fixation with ornate arrangements and acute professionalism, but lacking in the grand orchestral drama of genre stalwarts Arcade Fire or Sufjan Stevens, Reg's most distinctive feature may be his fey, slightly off-key vocal style. Careening over his soft melodies and keeping his songs forever light and airy, much of Reg's output up until this point has always felt a little too unsure of itself in its willingness to cater to his singing, keeping the music and the melodies a little too easygoing as if in fear of overwhelming their performer. It suggested a lack of self-confidence that often treats his voice as a liability rather than a particular unique and fragile instrument, threatening to limit his work from a wider range of style and scope.

Obviously talented and notably well connected, Reg did valuable time as an occasional member of eccentric outfit the Hidden Cameras while recording his first three solo discs for the now-defunct Canadian label Three Gut Records, before finally signing to indie rock superstar label Arts & Crafts (home to Broken Social Scene and its immense string of offshoots) last year. Little Buildings is the label's sampler of his earlier work, which had remained largely undistributed outside of Canada, in anticipation of their release of his first A&C recording, Jet Black. Pulling three songs from 2002's Make Me Pretty and five from 2004's Darby & Joan, while ignoring his 2000 debut The Theoretical Girl entirely (though adding the previously unreleased track "Something to Live For"), feels well programmed in order to highlight his strengths.

The Darby & Joan tracks "Bundle", "The Boyfriend Song", and "It's Not Safe" (also featured on the Shortbus soundtrack) in particular showcase three of his strongest melodic compositions, backing him up with sturdy power-pop arrangements that allowed him to strive towards a greater musical reach. The rest of what is collected here tends more towards highlighting his restraint and tendency towards mainstream folk-rock leanings (both his tasteful instrumentation and the slight helium tinge to his voice at times suggest a Canadian indie-pop John Mayer) without ever really letting the momentum stall much over the course of the compilation's somewhat less-than-generous nine-song, 33-minute running time.

Still, it is not only the brevity of this disc that makes it suspect as a compilation, but also the imbalance in the representation of his output. In highlighting nearly half of Darby & Joan while short-changing the admittedly less interesting Make Me Pretty material (not to mention not letting anything from The Theoretical Girl have a say), it's a wonder why Arts & Crafts didn't just go ahead and reissue Darby & Joan instead. If the goal is to provide context, Little Buildings is an awkward and incomplete portrait. As an inadvertent charting of Reg's artistic development in the form of a random snapshot, though, the disc may end up serving the label's purposes after all. If Darby & Joan signified a few notable steps forward, Jet Black is a sizable leap. Perhaps the blessing-in-disguise of an imposed five-year gap in recording allowed him to the time to flesh out his composition to their fullest potential, but if Jet Black proves anything, it's that Arts & Crafts nabbed him at exactly the right time.

The most welcome development on Jet Black, the one most clearly indicative of a refreshing confidence in his material, lies in the album's notably more full-bodied sonic palette. Perhaps it's an exaggeration to call the arrangements here more muscular than on Reg's previous outings, but there is nevertheless a greater emphasis on musical force and a willingness to take cues from a diversity of stylistic influences that brings the songs fully to life. Opener "Coastlines" and the swaggery "You Can't Get It Back" are backed by tight, garage-y guitar squalls and, in the case of the former, a saloon piano straight out of Exile on Main Street. The ominous keyboards and tinny, sprung-rhythm percussion on "Everlong" reveals it as a near-exact replica of Aimee Mann's "Frankenstein", while "How We Exit"'s "ah-ah-ah-ahh-ahh" vocal stutters are pure skinny tie New Wave. Most unexpected, though, is the oddly anachronistic "We're in a Thunderstorm", a pulsating dance track that's halfway between an early '80s club remix and something off of the Slumdog Millionaire soundtrack. Precisely the sort of thing that would have been a sore thumb on a lesser album, here it feels like another exhibit in Reg's encouraging willingness to experiment.

Even more encouraging is that, vocally, Reg at last sounds up to the challenge of the musical variety displayed on this album. Finally, too, his lower-key material feels fresher here almost simply by virtue of standing alongside a greater musical assortment. Where in the past his ballads tended to drift off into the well-worn territory of a typical sensitive songwriter with an acoustic guitar, most of the quieter material here has a greater depth than it has had in the past. The swaying "To Some It Comes Easy" marries a country sigh to a lightly throbbing bass and builds to an instantly memorable and wholly poignant chorus that never loses the song's subtle composure. The achingly lovely "Rewind", a duet with the Organ’s Katie Sketch, is even quieter, but builds to a stunning intensity as it makes its way towards the heartbreaking refrain of "There's no point in going back / When a masterpiece is crumbling".

If Jet Black does not quite feel like a great album, in the end it does feel like a revelatory one. It is the sound of an artist coming into his own, casting aside previously perceived limitations and finally delivering a fully realized work. Still a perfect gentleman, Reg Vermue has finally done well by forgetting his manners just a little bit.

7

Cover down, pray through: Bob Dylan's underrated, misunderstood "gospel years" are meticulously examined in this welcome new installment of his Bootleg series.

"How long can I listen to the lies of prejudice?
How long can I stay drunk on fear out in the wilderness?"
-- Bob Dylan, "When He Returns," 1979

Bob Dylan's career has been full of unpredictable left turns that have left fans confused, enthralled, enraged – sometimes all at once. At the 1965 Newport Folk Festival – accompanied by a pickup band featuring Mike Bloomfield and Al Kooper – he performed his first electric set, upsetting his folk base. His 1970 album Self Portrait is full of jazzy crooning and head-scratching covers. In 1978, his self-directed, four-hour film Renaldo and Clara was released, combining concert footage with surreal, often tedious dramatic scenes. Dylan seemed to thrive on testing the patience of his fans.

Keep reading... Show less
9
TV

Inane Political Discourse, or, Alan Partridge's Parody Politics

Publicity photo of Steve Coogan courtesy of Sky Consumer Comms

That the political class now finds itself relegated to accidental Alan Partridge territory along the with rest of the twits and twats that comprise English popular culture is meaningful, to say the least.

"I evolve, I don't…revolve."
-- Alan Partridge

Alan Partridge began as a gleeful media parody in the early '90s but thanks to Brexit he has evolved into a political one. In print and online, the hopelessly awkward radio DJ from Norwich, England, is used as an emblem for incompetent leadership and code word for inane political discourse.

Keep reading... Show less

The show is called Crazy Ex-Girlfriend largely because it spends time dismantling the structure that finds it easier to write women off as "crazy" than to offer them help or understanding.

In the latest episode of Crazy Ex-Girlfriend, the CW networks' highly acclaimed musical drama, the shows protagonist, Rebecca Bunch (Rachel Bloom), is at an all time low. Within the course of five episodes she has been left at the altar, cruelly lashed out at her friends, abandoned a promising new relationship, walked out of her job, had her murky mental health history exposed, slept with her ex boyfriend's ill father, and been forced to retreat to her notoriously prickly mother's (Tovah Feldshuh) uncaring guardianship. It's to the show's credit that none of this feels remotely ridiculous or emotionally manipulative.

Keep reading... Show less
9

If space is time—and space is literally time in the comics form—the world of the novel is a temporal cage. Manuele Fior pushes at the formal qualities of that cage to tell his story.

Manuele Fior's 5,000 Km Per Second was originally published in 2009 and, after winning the Angouléme and Lucca comics festivals awards in 2010 and 2011, was translated and published in English for the first time in 2016. As suggested by its title, the graphic novel explores the effects of distance across continents and decades. Its love triangle begins when the teenaged Piero and his best friend Nicola ogle Lucia as she moves into an apartment across the street and concludes 20 estranged years later on that same street. The intervening years include multiple heartbreaks and the one second phone delay Lucia in Norway and Piero in Egypt experience as they speak while 5,000 kilometers apart.

Keep reading... Show less
7

Featuring a shining collaboration with Terry Riley, the Del Sol String Quartet have produced an excellent new music recording during their 25 years as an ensemble.

Dark Queen Mantra, both the composition and the album itself, represent a collaboration between the Del Sol String Quartet and legendary composer Terry Riley. Now in their 25th year, Del Sol have consistently championed modern music through their extensive recordings (11 to date), community and educational outreach efforts, and performances stretching from concert halls and the Library of Congress to San Francisco dance clubs. Riley, a defining figure of minimalist music, has continually infused his compositions with elements of jazz and traditional Indian elements such as raga melodies and rhythms. Featuring two contributions from Riley, as well as one from former Riley collaborator Stefano Scodanibbio, Dark Queen Mantra continues Del Sol's objective of exploring new avenues for the string quartet format.

Keep reading... Show less
9
Pop Ten
Mixed Media
PM Picks

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

rating-image