Very few of us would want the actions and accomplishments of our teenage years to serve as a representation for an entire life’s work. Old pictures, home movies shot on handheld cameras, and school projects saved on someone’s shelves serve as reminders of awkward foibles and the life lessons we had yet to learn. With that in mind, it’s hard to know quite how much to make of the first full-length album from Playradioplay!’s 18-year-old architect Daniel Hunter.
The album is one of mixed results, containing approximately equal amounts of inspired innovation and lackluster reliance on current pop/rock conventions. Almost assuredly, Texas will not be the final word from Hunter and thus, the album should be judged with grace and an attempt to look forward into the bright sunlight of the career that awaits the young Texan.
Hunter’s first long-form project features twelve tracks which, stylistically, remind us that his formative years have been spent in a world where artists like The Killers, Fall Out Boy, and The Postal Service have attained popularity. While the album’s production values lean more toward the softer-edged, electronic sounds of The Postal Service, there are certainly more than a few nods to the populist appeal championed by the first two bands in that grouping.
Although the cliché rings true that most everything is bigger in Texas, on Texas bigger certainly does not mean better. Hunter shows a definite gift for finding beauty in the tones and textures of ambient and electronic music, and it is when he uncovers such beauty that the album is most successful. When the beats get bouncier, the rhythms more accelerated and the melodies more emotive, Hunter stumbles and shows his relative lack of experience.
Instances which fully display Hunter’s potential to create some really poignant pieces of music include entire songs (the excellent single “Madi Don’t Leave”, “Without Gravity”) as well as some well-developed sections to songs. Outros to otherwise forgettable, average tracks like “Some Crap About the Furniture” and “Corner Office Bedroom” showcase Hunter’s ability to experiment with production and arrangement to create something delicate and diverse (the collaboration of U2/Snow Patrol producer Garrett “Jackknife” Lee shouldn’t go without mention). At his best (and on the album’s best), Hunter is a naturally engaging writer with a gift for melody and an ability to draw the most out of a recording.
Choosing to focus an assessment of Texas on such attributes and songs is to focus on what separates Hunter from other young musicians on major labels, a focus that works in his favor. It would be too easy and perhaps unfair to bag on Hunter for less clever dance/rock/slightly emo tracks like “Loco Motion” or “I’m a Pirate, You’re a Princess” (though these songs try hard — way too hard — to be clever). Lots of musicians at his level are writing such tracks and giving them similarly long, similarly un-amusing titles like “I’m a Pirate…” or “My Attendance is Bad, But My Intentions are Good”, which also shows up on the project. There is enough hinted at here to separate Hunter from the rest of a similar pack that such qualities should be encouraged on future efforts.
There has been plenty of internet buzz over Hunter’s work and such attention should propel Texas to chart success, which would make Hunter a recognizable face and force on the current rock landscape. As Hunter continues on, there will hopefully be a parallel between growth in his life experiences and his music. A continued shaping, developing, and focusing of his talents would potentially yield some tremendous results. Texas may eventually be the recorded equivalent of an old home movie or yearbook photo to Hunter with future glories realized.