PopMatters is moving to WordPress. We will publish a few essays daily while we develop the new site. We hope the beta will be up sometime late next week.
Music

Graig Markel: Tall Tales on Tape

Emily Sogn

Graig Markel

Tall Tales on Tape

Label: Sonic Boom Recordings
US Release Date: 2004-04-06
UK Release Date: Available as import
Amazon
iTunes

Leaving a position as the primary crooner of a rock band to pursue a solo career as a "singer-songwriter" is a tricky business that only a privileged few can pull off with finesse. If you front a good band that has achieved even moderate success, its a tempting thing to do, especially if you are the kind of individualistic multi-tasker that likes to have a hand in every single aspect of a making a record. And what musician who has even an ounce of self-confidence (and the better part of them have a few gallons at least) hasn't thought that they could achieve even greater heights if they could skip the whole collaboration thing and call all the shots when songwriting? But what most musicians don't realize is that although many bands do very well to have a prolific singer that has enough charisma and skill to shoulder the responsibility of being the band's most visible member, these same qualities can easily be transformed into liabilities without the rest of the band to temper them. Sometimes this problem is purely a matter of ego. The same cool assuredness that makes Mr. or Ms. Frontperson so captivating in front of a band can appear cloying and cocky when flying solo. Such a phenomenon can be seen when looking at the career of Ryan Adams for example, who went from being an endearingly depressed country kid in Whiskeytown to an irritatingly depressed pop panderer once he left his band behind him to go it alone. Evan Dando is another in this category of musicians who are much more palatable when they have solid bandmates to anchor their feet to the ground.

Inflated egos, however, are not the only reason that pursing a solo career is a venture so fraught with potential pitfalls. For, even more common than the egomaniac who finally admits that they aren't willing to share the attention is the lead singer who uses their solo career to unleash all of the bottled up sentimentality that they've been shoring up for all those years of playing in the band. Paul McCartney is the most obvious of these cases. He's pure genius when his nearly perfect pop sensibility is paired with John Lennon's bittersweet and experimental songwriting. But left to his own devices, he comes up with something like "The Long and Winding Road". To his credit, he also came up with the heartbreakingly sweet "Yesterday", but that's only because he's Paul freaking McCartney and his hits more than make up for his misses. But the point here is that even for a guy who was in one of the greatest bands in all of rock history, solo songwriting can be a one-way ticket to a syrupy sentimentality that only sappy teenage girls and nostalgic baby boomers can stand.

Graig Markel, the former lead singer for Seattle-based punk-pop band New Sweet Breath, seems like a victim of the latter phenomenon at times. Whereas his soft, breathy voice and angular guitar worked beautifully within the framework of the band's perky yet jaded pop, Markel on his own plays fast and loose with the heartstrings, frequently luxuriating in that dangerous space between being sincere and just plain embarrassing. This has been true of his three previous records, and, unfortunately, it is also true of his newest project, Tall Tales on Tape, out on Sonic Boom Recordings. While most of the time he steers more towards a level of songwriting that maintains a compelling balance between confession and detachment, there are moments when the combination of his emotionally bare lyrics and his soulful singing veer towards a realm best left to avowed easy-listing sap like Aaron Neville or Bryan Adams.

But that is not to say that the album is without considerable merits. Though cringe inducing, Markel's moments of hyper-senitimentalism are few and far between, and the music that lies between then is uniformly good. Like his previous record, The Gospel Project, Tall Tales is a moody, meandering collection of finely crafted songs. Influenced equally by '70s-era soul and Elliot Smith-style pop, Markel's tunes ease you into a low-blood pressure world where heartbreak is always right behind you or just around the corner. As a former Seattlite, my favorite aspect of Markel's songwriting has always been his ability to evoke the imagery of the Pacific Northwest in his music. Listening to a gorgeously understated song like "Black and White and Numb All Over", I can't help but think about driving on a winding mountain road, evergreens towering up to a cloudy sky the color of milk. "Saturday Nigh Fractures" is similarly a gem, starting out thick with distorted drum and bass and opening up to a drowsy, pop-driven melody whose layers become more and more intricate as the song progresses. "The Year 3000 is Ahead" offers a wry meditation on his musical and personal evolution, opening up with the lines "The year 3000's just ahead / Disco is nearly dead / I won a free trip to Club Med / And gave away my indie cred". The last song on the record, "Your Favorite Colors", is a nice showcase for Markel's amazingly versatile voice, slipping in and out of a ringing falsetto with a graceful ease that would make even the most seasoned chanteur green with envy.

As this is Markel's fourth album since going solo, he is pretty firmly embedded in the genre of singer-songwriter by now. And, altogether, this is a good thing. Although he sometimes falls victim to the temptation of oversentimentality, he has managed the transition to a solo career with many of his best qualities intact. His voice is golden and his songs are sad and consistently melodic without being formulaic. However, one can't help but wish that one day he'd add his considerable talents to a collective project once again, just for the sake of stirring up the mix and adding a little variety to his heartfelt tunes.

Please Donate to Help Save PopMatters

PopMatters have been informed by our current technology and hosting provider that we have less than a month, until November 6, to move PopMatters off their service or we will be shut down. We are moving to WordPress and a new host, but we really need your help to save the site.


Music

Books

Film

Recent
Music

Laura Veirs Talks to Herself on 'My Echo'

The thematic connections between these 10 Laura Veirs songs and our current situation are somewhat coincidental, or maybe just the result of kismet or karmic or something in the zeitgeist.

Film

15 Classic Horror Films That Just Won't Die

Those lucky enough to be warped by these 15 classic horror films, now available on Blu-ray from The Criterion Collection and Kino Lorber, never got over them.

Music

Sixteen Years Later Wayne Payne Follows Up His Debut

Waylon Payne details a journey from addiction to redemption on Blue Eyes, The Harlot, The Queer, The Pusher & Me, his first album since his 2004 debut.

Music

Every Song on the Phoenix Foundation's 'Friend Ship' Is a Stand-Out

Friend Ship is the Phoenix Foundation's most personal work and also their most engaging since their 2010 classic, Buffalo.

Music

Kevin Morby Gets Back to Basics on 'Sundowner'

On Sundowner, Kevin Morby sings of valleys, broken stars, pale nights, and the midwestern American sun. Most of the time, he's alone with his guitar and a haunting mellotron.

Music

Lydia Loveless Creates Her Most Personal Album with 'Daughter'

Given the turmoil of the era, you might expect Lydia Loveless to lean into the anger, amplifying the electric guitar side of her cowpunk. Instead, she created a personal record with a full range of moods, still full of her typical wit.

Music

Flowers for Hermes: An Interview with Performing Activist André De Shields

From creating the title role in The Wiz to winning an Emmy for Ain't Misbehavin', André De Shields reflects on his roles in more than four decades of iconic musicals, including the GRAMMY and Tony Award-winning Hadestown.

Film

The 13 Greatest Horror Directors of All Time

In honor of Halloween, here are 13 fascinating fright mavens who've made scary movies that much more meaningful.

Music

British Jazz and Soul Artists Interpret the Classics on '​Blue Note Re:imagined'

Blue Note Re:imagined provides an entrance for new audiences to hear what's going on in British jazz today as well as to go back to the past and enjoy old glories.

Film

Bill Murray and Rashida Jones Add Another Shot to 'On the Rocks'

Sofia Coppola's domestic malaise comedy On the Rocks doesn't drown in its sorrows -- it simply pours another round, to which we raise our glass.

Music

​Patrick Cowley Remade Funk and Disco on 'Some Funkettes'

Patrick Cowley's Some Funkettes sports instrumental renditions from between 1975-1977 of songs previously made popular by Donna Summer, Herbie Hancock, the Temptations, and others.

Music

The Top 10 Definitive Breakup Albums

When you feel bombarded with overpriced consumerism disguised as love, here are ten albums that look at love's hangover.

Music

Dustin Laurenzi's Natural Language Digs Deep Into the Jazz Quartet Format with 'A Time and a Place'

Restless tenor saxophonist Dustin Laurenzi runs his four-piece combo through some thrilling jazz excursions on a fascinating new album, A Time and a Place.

Television

How 'Watchmen' and 'The Boys' Deconstruct American Fascism

Superhero media has a history of critiquing the dark side of power, hero worship, and vigilantism, but none have done so as radically as Watchmen and The Boys.

Music

Floodlights' 'From a View' Is Classicist Antipodal Indie Guitar Pop

Aussie indie rockers, Floodlights' debut From a View is a very cleanly, crisply-produced and mixed collection of shambolic, do-it-yourself indie guitar music.

Music

CF Watkins Embraces a Cool, Sophisticated Twang on 'Babygirl'

CF Watkins has pulled off the unique trick of creating an album that is imbued with the warmth of the American South as well as the urban sophistication of New York.

Music

Helena Deland Suggests Imagination Is More Rewarding Than Reality on 'Something New'

Canadian singer-songwriter Helena Deland's first full-length release Someone New reveals her considerable creative talents.

Music

While the Sun Shines: An Interview with Composer Joe Wong

Joe Wong, the composer behind Netflix's Russian Doll and Master of None, articulates personal grief and grappling with artistic fulfillment into a sweeping debut album.


Reviews
Collapse Expand Reviews



Features
Collapse Expand Features

PM Picks
Collapse Expand Pm Picks

© 1999-2020 PopMatters.com. All rights reserved.
PopMatters is wholly independent, women-owned and operated.