Two songwriters overcome self-imposed limitations to deliver a solid pop collection.
For years, the US-based label Not Lame has been delivering the voice of Australian pop musician Michael Carpenter to the world. But while the pop underground scene has elevated his work to contemporary genius status, he still remains a relatively obscure figure outside those circles. Heralded as a brilliant combination of Paul McCartney and the Finn Brothers, with a healthy amount of requisite references to Brian Wilson on the side, in theory Carpenter has the kind of pop chops that equal stardom -- in the mythical world where pure pop is still busting the charts.
In recent years, Carpenter has been stretching into new territory. His earliest releases were primarily one-man affairs, with all songs written by Carpenter, all instruments performed by Carpenter, and all vox sung by Carpenter. But in 2003 he surprised fans by releasing his first album with a full backing band, Kings Rd. And now, with the Supahip, Carpenter is once more branching off into new territory. Joining together with friend and fellow musician Mark Moldre of Hitchcock's Regret, the pair combined their individual talents to write and record in a manner that challenged both musicians as songwriters and musicians.
Coming together in the studio once a month for just over a year, all 12 tracks on Seize the World were recorded in as spontaneous a manner as possible, and all within the span of a day. With no prior collaboration, Carpenter and Moldre entered the studio in the morning with a rough idea, sketched out the track between them, and recorded it all in one sitting, repeating this process once a month. In the end the whole process wound up inspiring the songwriters -- both of whom were more or less used to being the sole songwriter on their respective projects -- and infused the songs with a simplified vitality and immediacy that the pair felt tied them back to "the good old days" or early rock music.
Of additional interest to audiophiles is the fact that Seize the World was recorded to emulate the '60s pop recordings of yore, or, as the duo calls it, in the "hyperRETROsonic" process. This essentially means that the instruments are all hard-panned right or left to give it a wide stereo sound. Unfortunately, this takes away from the impact of some of the tracks by creating a noticeable empty space in the sound, and there are some songs, for example "Everything's Alright", that would benefit from a richer mix. The Supahip make up for it somewhat by offering a straight mono recording of ten of the twelve tracks following the stereo versions, which gives the songs a very direct, garage-recording punch.
Regardless of songwriting or recording process, the songs that Carpenter and Moldre deliver here are almost all top notch, and while there's nothing here that truly breaks the mold to invent something new, Seize the World offers 12 mature, developed tunes whose rushed birth is completely masked by skilled musicians. The leadoff track "Like Love" has all the hallmarks of a McCartney ballad, even down to the falsetto harmony and "ahhhh" backing vocals. Shifting gears, one of the real stand-out tracks here is "Tulsa", which surprisingly seems to mine the kind of mellow groove and rolling lyrical rhythms of Beck with shades of Beach Boys exotica, all the while filling the track with an amalgam of instruments. Meanwhile, "Something's Gotta Give", "Satellite", and "Ultra Black Light" have the kind of assured pop-rock vibe that artists like Dada and Matthew Sweet make seem so effortless. And I'd be remiss not to mention the cover of Nik Kershaw's "Wouldn't It Be Good". In place of the original's techno-effects-processed vocal intro and '80s synths, a warbling guitar and bare-bones bass line pick the song out, which evolves into a shuffling guitar pop song peppered with organs and electro effects pedals.
With its mix of low-key rockers and pure pop balladry, Seize the World proves the Supahip to be a fruitful and fortuitous side-project. Neither the Bens nor the Finns, it's probably not going to help break Carpenter or Moldre into the big time, but it's proof that setting new challenges for yourself as an artist can be great creative exercise with excellent results.