During a little stop between the debut and second studio albums, Ohio’s singer-songwriter and former Southeast Engine’s front Adam Remnant has recorded a small but very meaningful three-song record about mistakes of the past, life routine, nighttime miracles, and how “this world lets us down down down down” (not in Paul Johnson’s way of course). A bit of a touch of Elliott Smith and Bright Eyes included.
Remnant’s very tactile lyricism catches one’s imagination from the get-go. “With each drag I take, I can’t seem to exhale you,” he whispers with his cracked, rusty voice to the finger-picked accompaniment with a subtle Nick Cave-ness or even Western film tunes the title track, “Sunrise at the Sunset Motel”. The quiet but moving and dramatic chorus of “Dumb Luck” is quite reminiscent of Christian Lee Hutson’s slow-burning and poppy ballads. It describes a very lucky man who, in the manner of the Coen brothers’ heroes, doesn’t understand what to do with a domestic miracle that occurred to him. “I’m the man who should not be alive,” he repeats with Neil Young-ish quavering and smoky coos.
In middle school, he learned to play guitar by familiarizing himself with Nirvana‘s and Dinosaur Jr.‘s songs, and speaking of “Neil Young-like vocals”, J Mascis’ raspy, introspective, and slacker delivery is especially evident here and on Adam Remnant’s other records. However, he adds a bit of twang, mystery, and emotions to it. He draws highly detailed gobelins depicting everyday American life in the manner of, let’s say, Edward Hopper’s industrial landscapes, which are both deserted and very precise with details simultaneously. Remnant pushes the subtle narrative with minimum words, like contemporary German theater directors who use minimalistic scenography and play of light and shadow to convey highly emotional scenes.
“I see recordings as paintings where you’re trying to portray the song in the right light,” says Remnant, and this is not without reason. Just read these lines: “Outside the darkness frays / Headlights head for the highway”; “I remember high beams blinding / I steered the wheel hard against the light”; or “Upstate, the leaves changing / Sunset, the light fading in your room.” It’s not a lot of words, but the setting and mise-en-scène are built, and the message is delivered. If some singers need manuscript rolls to shape their meanings, Remnant is good with telegram-scale forms. “Sometimes”, as Winnie-the-Pooh might say, “the smallest things take up the most room in your heart”.
However, not every small offering is made by an emerging artist. The author of the 12-minute-length Sunrise at the Sunset Motel is in the business for how long… Let me count, as St. Vincent sings, “in reverse”. In 2018, he released his debut album, Sourwood, with tunes reminiscent of Fleet Foxes, Bob Dylan, and other legendary old-timers. In 2016, there was a time of his critically acclaimed and a bit the War on Drugs-indebted debut EP When I Was a Boy, where he sang absolutely justifiably, “Don’t take me for granted.” In 2012, he started a solo career, and from 2000 until 2013, he had been rolling with friends in a folk-rock band called Southeast Engine.
Usually, it’s not accepted in music journalism to get distracted from reviews of big releases by such pocket-sized offerings. Yet, it’s hard to name Adam Remnant as an inconspicuous artist, considering his long and devoted contribution to alt-country, indie folk, and other related genres. One day, it will become the subject of serious study in one of the related subreddit universes with a growing coterie of dedicated fans. In my humble opinion, he has already earned a small monument somewhere near Elliott Smith’s imaginary one, and this small release is just a glimpse of a new big beginning, a “pocket revolution” for his oeuvre, to put it in Tom Barman’s words.
In Sunrise at the Sunset Motel, Remnant’s sonics go far further than everything he did from 2000 that his new LP, which he already finished and plans to release this year, must cause his stock to go up, like the ones of StopGame in 2021, and increase his recognition like Alice’s size after she drank a potion labeled “Drink Me”. Then that’s all for now, folks. As Remnant sings in “Ghost Story”, “I’m done listening / I’m done deciphering.”