Shane Bartell: Too Soon to Say

Bartell defies the singer-songwriter blueprint in many ways, but damned if this album doesn't hit the spot about 12 ways to Sunday nonetheless.

Shane Bartell

Too Soon to Say

Label: Sarathan
US Release Date: 2006-07-18
UK Release Date: 2006-07-18

It is apparently very easy to be a singer-songwriter; there are a lot of them, and more every day. All you have to do is have some kind of a scruffy touseled look (men and women both), a good-enough voice (women, sadly, have to have better voices than men, or they will get more harsly criticized on this score), and copy the 700 million singer-songwriters who have come before you.

But it is much harder to be a good singer-songwriter, and extremely hard to be very good at it. So I'm kind of shocked at the fact of Shane Bartell's existence. On the face of it, he shouldn't be all that good -- his tempos are kind of glacial, his voice is mostly Jeff Buckley-ish (my wife hears Alex Chilton, but she hears Alex Chilton everywhere) but he rarely soars up into the stratosphere, and he doesn't have any kind of pretty-boy looks. But damned if this album doesn't hit the spot about twelve ways to Sunday nonetheless.

He has a trio of advantages off the bat here. The first one is that he's a Texas guy, so he has some credibility when he ventures into territory by slathering steel guitars all over the place. His twang isn't the only thing he has going on, but it comes out at the right moments -- "Stars Burn Out (I)" and its apparent companion piece "Long and Short (II)" both really bring out the Lone Star signifiers in his lovely voice.

Another advantage is the fact that he built up a huge cult audience in Portland, which is a great place to be a cult artist. Doing your time in a place like that can really help you find your own voice. I just really like his lyrics. He's good at the simple stuff. There's a lot of resonance in country-influenced stuff like the opening of "Breaking the News": "Right away I know / Before the words come over the phone / Softer than silence as it slowly cracks / Please forgive the sudden heart attack". But he can also get fancy and name-droppy on us too, as he shows in "Harris Park": "But for now I'll just lay low / Mark Kozelek on the stereo / Talking till dawn about your boyfriend". (Been there, my brother, been there times one million.)

But the main advantage Bartell has here is his choice of Lars Göransson as producer. The textures here are much richer and more interesting than in just about any other singer-songwriter albums I've heard here. Göransson (who has worked with Blondie and the Cardigans) knows how to showcase Bartell's voice while still providing plenty of other interesting stuff for us to groove on.

Actually, now that I think of it, a lot of this stuff probably comes from Bartell himself. His tenure in Cling, an Austin dreamgaze band, gives him a lot of drone-buzz guitar tendencies, which come in nicely to break up the slow tempos -- "Breaking the News" would be maybe dead boring except for the slashing noises that show up everywhere. And the nine-minute closer, "Almost Perfect", uses space and patience early on, using gentle piano and acoustic guitar to set its own stage for the sturm-and-drang power chords that come in exactly at the five-minute mark. Bartell's overdriven solo that follows is metallic and heartfelt and pretty, until it gets overwhelmed by soaring synths and strings.

So yeah, he's one to watch for, and to listen to. Repeatedly.







Buridan's Ass and the Problem of Free Will in John Sturges' 'The Great Escape'

Escape in John Sturge's The Great Escape is a tactical mission, a way to remain in the war despite having been taken out of it. Free Will is complicated.


The Redemption of Elton John's 'Blue Moves'

Once reviled as bloated and pretentious, Elton John's 1976 album Blue Moves, is one of his masterpieces, argues author Matthew Restall in the latest installment of the 33 1/3 series.


Whitney Take a Master Class on 'Candid'

Although covers albums are usually signs of trouble, Whitney's Candid is a surprisingly inspired release, with a song selection that's eclectic and often obscure.


King Buzzo Continues His Reign with 'Gift of Sacrifice'

King Buzzo's collaboration with Mr. Bungle/Fantômas bassist Trevor Dunn expands the sound of Buzz Osborne's solo oeuvre on Gift of Sacrifice.


Jim O'Rourke's Experimental 'Shutting Down Here' Is Big on Technique

Jim O'Rourke's Shutting Down Here is a fine piece of experimental music with a sure hand leading the way. But it's not pushing this music forward with the same propensity as Luc Ferrari or Derek Bailey.


Laraaji Returns to His First Instrument for 'Sun Piano'

The ability to help the listener achieve a certain elevation is something Laraaji can do, at least to some degree, no matter the instrument.


Kristin Hersh Discusses Her Gutsy New Throwing Muses Album

Kristin Hersh thinks influences are a crutch, and chops are a barrier between artists and their truest expressions. We talk about life, music, the pandemic, dissociation, and the energy that courses not from her but through her when she's at her best.


The 10 Best Fleetwood Mac Solo Albums

Fleetwood Mac are the rare group that feature both a fine discography and a successful series of solo LPs from their many members. Here are ten examples of the latter.


Jamila Woods' "SULA (Paperback)" and Creative Ancestry and Self-Love in the Age of "List" Activism

In Jamila Woods' latest single "SULA (Paperback)", Toni Morrison and her 1973 novel of the same name are not static literary phenomena. They are an artist and artwork as galvanizing and alive as Woods herself.


The Erotic Disruption of the Self in Paul Schrader's 'The Comfort of Strangers'

Paul Schrader's The Comfort of Strangers presents the discomfiting encounter with another —someone like you—and yet entirely unlike you, mysterious to you, unknown and unknowable.


'Can You Spell Urusei Yatsura' Is a Much Needed Burst of Hopefulness in a Desultory Summer

A new compilation online pulls together a generous helping of B-side action from a band deserving of remembrance, Scotland's Urusei Yatsura.


Jess Cornelius Creates Tautly Constructed Snapshots of Life

Former Teeth & Tongue singer-songwriter Jess Cornelius' Distance is an enrapturing collection of punchy garage-rock, delicate folk, and arty synthpop anthems which examine liminal spaces between us.


Sikoryak's 'Constitution Illustrated' Pays Homage to Comics and the Constitution

R. Sikoryak's satirical pairings of comics characters with famous and infamous American historical figures breathes new and sometimes uncomfortable life into the United States' most living document.


South African Folk Master Vusi Mahlasela Honors Home on 'Shebeen Queen'

South African folk master Vusi Mahlasela pays tribute to his home and family with township music on live album, Shebeen Queen.


Planningtorock Is Queering Sound, Challenging Binaries, and Making Infectious Dance Music

Planningtorock emphasizes "queering sound and vision". The music industry has its hierarchies of style, of equipment, of identities. For Jam Rostron, queering music means taking those conventions and deliberately manipulating and subverting them.


'History Gets Ahead of the Story' for Jazz's Cosgrove, Medeski, and Lederer

Jazz drummer Jeff Cosgrove leads brilliant organ player John Medeski and multi-reed master Jeff Lederer through a revelatory recording of songs by William Parker and some just-as-good originals.


A Fresh Look at Free Will and Determinism in Terry Gilliam's '12 Monkeys'

Susanne Kord gets to the heart of the philosophical issues in Terry Gilliam's 1995 time-travel dystopia, 12 Monkeys.


The Devonns' Debut Is a Love Letter to Chicago Soul

Chicago's the Devonns pay tribute the soul heritage of their city with enough personality to not sound just like a replica.

Collapse Expand Reviews

Collapse Expand Features
PM Picks
Collapse Expand Pm Picks

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