RaperGet Cape. Wear Cape. Fly.: Chronicles of a Bohemian Teenager

Dan Raper

Buzzed UK folk-pop debut from 20-year-old Sam Duckworth refuses to dress up his tunes or words with any frills whatsoever.

Get Cape. Wear Cape. Fly.

Chronicles of a Bohemian Teenager

Label: Atlantic
US Release Date: 2007-04-03
UK Release Date: 2006-09-13

For once, I don't mind playing the contrarian to the British press's unabashed big-upping. Get Cape. Wear Cape. Fly, the guitar/laptop project of young singer-songwriter Sam Duckworth, has been gathering the comparisons to political folk heroes like Bright Eyes since last year, when we heard the first of the songs off his debut album, The Chronicles of a Bohemian Teenager. Okay, he's got potential ... but sorry, there's no way this guy is anywhere close to Connor Oberst. Let's nip that one in the bud. Having said that, the singer taps into a vein of anti-pretension that seems already to have resonated with a lot of music lovers, at least in Britain. So there's something to this Get Cape. Wear Cape. Fly fellow, at least.

There's a strong vein of youthful optimism to Get Cape. Wear Cape. Fly's lyrics that, while youthful and certainly sweet, can come across as naïve. The very first song, "One More With Feeling", lays this out in Duckworth's characteristically straightforward way:

Don't let the people make you think

That just because you're young you're useless

You know it's not naïve to think you can change things around

And no man is an island

As listeners, we might be more amenable to accepting these low-level half-cliches if they weren't delivered in a voice so young-sounding -- a voice with none of the gravel or growl of inevitable disappointment.

Perhaps more interesting than these feel-good-isms is Duckworth's hyper-awareness of what an expectant indie-oriented online critical community expects from a "young, witty British singer-songwriter". He also places his songs firmly in the setting of contemporary, suburban Britain. But instead of Arctic Monkeys- or Jamie T-style theatrics (the witticisms, the droll portraiture of dead-end youth), we get a plainly-stated refusal to engage with the Ikea-buying cohorts of his peers. The defiance pertains to Get Cape. Wear Cape. Fly's music, as well. Duckworth puts it, simply: "You don't need a degree to deconstruct this melody." Or, in a more expanded version on "I-Spy", "It doesn't matter that this song has a simple tune / Even though that's not what I'm supposed to do". Obviously, in this singer's book, it's enough to reference this self-awareness; and taking full advantage, he goes on to ape a very recognizable Oasis song, to defiantly dumb-down the chorus (stuck on the high note), and even to descend into la-la-las, all in the same song. Your tolerance for this overt Brit-pop-ness will depend on your attitude, in general, towards Brit-pop.

Either way, the positivity and all those acoustic guitars can get you down after a while. "Whitewash is Brainwash" falls short both musically and lyrically. The attempted differentiation, with drum machine, pinging water effects, and static-covered vocals, fails to engage; and all the talk about how "romance is dead ... it's an ideology exploited for commercial gain" patronises.

It's when Duckworth expands his palette musically to a more full, orchestral sound that Get Cape. Wear Cape. Fly is most successful. Sure, the songs still sound like a minor version of Badly Drawn Boy (effete and gentle) and the easy pop instrumentation at times recalls Kings of Convenience (especially on the samba-infused "An Oak Tree"). "Glass Houses", one of the disc highlights, brings a welcome textural change with its multi-tracked vocals and layered strings and brass, blossoming into a gorgeous pop-folk song with an independent spirit. And there's a moment in "Lighthouse Keeper", initially reminiscent of a Scott Fruhan acoustic ballad, when the guitar line actually breaks down like in that one scene from Y Tu Mama Tambien. It's really effective.

By the end of The Chronicles of a Bohemian Teenager you'd be forgiven in thinking, here's another acoustic ballad, another pretty song. The final song swirls around and fades out, but Get Cape. Wear Cape. Fly hasn't quite made the strong impression the band hopes for. Trust me, this doesn't have a patch on Cassadanga - American politico-folk's safe, for the moment, from assault cross-Atlantic. A nice try, but this young band has a way to go before those comparisons will be justified.

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