Craig Gurwich's sophomore disc is a beautiful, assured effort in melancholy indie rock. However, you might want to wait until autumn to listen to it.
If anything, Craig Gurwich, AKA Summer At Shatter Creek, is a testament to the power of sheer determination. With no job and no money, Gurwich sold his baseball card collection and purchased an eight-track, a drum kit and a microphone. With these tools and a few more instruments at his disposal he recorded his critically-praised self-titled debut album. His sophomore effort, All The Answers, was made under similar circumstances. Shortly after his debut was released, half of his musical equipment was stolen out of his garage. Rather than going into debt to buy new gear, Gurwich borrowed what he could and crafted his latest release. If anyone can take life's lemons and turn them into lemonade, Gurwich can.
Sounding like the lovechild of Sufjan Stevens and Low, All The Answers revels in melancholy. Over nine tracks, Gurwich paints vivid portraits of disappointment, despair and longing, yet miraculously it never feels self-indulgent or contrived. Despite the album's title, Gurwich doesn't quite have the solution to his miseries, but accepts them and hopes to move on.
The album opens with its best track, the shape-shifting "Your Ever Changing Moods". A plaintive plea to a lover, Gurwich tries desperately to understand the mixed signals he is receiving from his partner. The song is a slow builder that reaches an astonishing climax with a gut-wrenching performance from Gurwich in which he sings: "I'm afraid you'll be gone for good, / When you can't control your ever- changing moods". With his multi-tracked vocals swirling around your head, the effect is spine-tingling.
"All The Answers" is most reminiscent of the aforementioned slowcore of Low. Propelled by his voice and paced at a pleasant trot, you half-expect to hear the rustle of Mimi Parker's brushes against a snare drum. Instead Gurwich surprises, with flourishes of organ and vibraphone adding beautiful texture to this simply-written song. Again Gurwich tugs the heartstrings, with a simple request of an unnamed paramour to "pay more attention to me". The sentiment isn't as cloying as it sounds written down, which is one of Gurwich's secret weapons. He manages to wrestle more emotion out of seemingly-cliched lyrics than they probably deserve.
The album's third track, "Worlds Away", again finds Gurwich wringing ordinary lines for more than they're worth. "You used to be so witty and so sharp, / With lots of energy and tons of heart, / I think about how you were back then, / A lot has changed", he sings in the song's opening moments. With his powerful voice and orchestral arrangements, Gurwich again manages to make this an extremely pleasant salvo to swallow.
Unfortunately, Gurwich doesn't make it through the whole disc without error, and the album's final two tracks find All The Answers stumbling across the finish line. "Optimistic" is marred by a distracting start / stop rhythm guitar in the song's verse, and lyrics ("I used to be optimistic, / But I can't lie, / All I see is the dying of the earth, / Giant piles of trash and disease") that can't be salvaged, even by Gurwich's beautiful delivery. The song comes to a noisy conclusion, with distorted cymbals burying Gurwich's voice in the mix, and it's not quite convincing. "Optimistic" sounds like a Greenpeace song gone off the rails.
The album closes with the self-indulgent and annoying "Structure". Gurwich overdubs his own voice to create a melodic "riff" for the song, which hangs in the background not quite humming and not quit singing, yet still guiding the song. For the next four minutes Gurwich sings ad nauseum, "Structure falls apart, / And there's nothing you can do about it". The only thing we can do about it is to turn the damn thing off. It's a good thing these tracks were left for the end, as the rest of the album is incredibly strong. Gurwich knows his way around a studio, and it would be interesting to see what he could come up with, had he even more studio tools available to him (providing they aren't stolen).
It's strange that Badman would chose to release this album in the spring. As the days get warmer and we start breaking out t-shirts and enjoying the longer, clearer days, the melancholic All The Answers isn't quite the musical accompaniment most people will go for. My advice is to head on down to your local record store, pick the disc up, and file it away. When October rolls around, with its brisk air and gloomy early evenings, pull All The Answers off the CD shelf and wrap yourself up in Gurwich's warm, reassuring voice.