Casey Fundaro spent three years working on this new musical project, pouring his heart and soul into every minute of it. Was it in fact "time well spent"? One listen and you'll know. The eponymous debut of timewellspent is a moody collection of ambient and orchestral pop vignettes, featuring quietly floating, somber soundscapes that successfully mix musical influences from many disparate sources and eras.
Fundaro has been exposed to music his whole life. As the nephew of Three Dog Night vocalist Danny Hutton, the young Casey had an inside look at the music biz, and he has been singing and playing drums in various bands over the years.
In the late '90s, Fundaro was fronting the jangle guitar pop band Flamingo, known for a self-titled release and contributions to various compilations (including tributes to The Left Banke and Gene Clark). But his ideas for new music were different, and required new personnel. He placed a classified advertisement in a local paper, seeking South Florida musicians to help him realize his ideas.
Luckily, Christopher Moll answered the call. Moll had been a key member of the regional music scene for over a decade, fronting the Brit-pop inspired band 23. The fact that Chris plays several instruments and has a real passion for experimentation in recording and engineering made him the perfect complement to Fundaro.
As they started in on two years of recording music, timewellspent was born. They collaborated on music, with Fundaro penning lyrics, taking painstaking care in the sounds created, until this nuanced, semi-shoegazey musical creation was ready to go. Fundaro does all the vocals, some acoustic guitar, and some drums, while Moll handles acoustic and electric guitar, pedal steel, piano, Wurlitzer, Farfisa organ, vibraphone, glockenspiel, percussion, and various other sounds. Additional musicians were called in as needed (David Rubenstein on guitar, Jason Knapfel on bass, Mike Federline and Chris O'Malley on drums, Eddie Alonso on trumpet, James Gardner on piano, and Rosemary Siemens on violin).
There is a wide range of instrumental sounds here, and the overall impression is that every one of them is controlled with care, that this is a labor of love for the two men creating it. Additionally, there was great care taken in the mixing and mastering from Thom Monahan (Pernice Brothers) and Jeff Lipton (Magnetic Fields) respectively.
The CD opens with "Hello", a short welcoming musical pastiche, then segues into "I Want to Tell You" (not related to the George Harrison/Beatles tune), a brief montage of a song about relating thoughts to the one that can set him free. The verses trip forward peacefully to a chorus that has a sweet, dreamy, jazzy lounge feel to it. There's some fine bass work, and Fundaro's vocals are gentle, almost fragile, helping express the tentative thoughts seeking communication.
"I Know You" is a slow-paced moody song, kind of Pink Floyd meets Radiohead, describing the ideal: "As simple as the way you are / So far from me a distant star / To hear you laugh / To see you smile / A part of you a little while / To share some time / Connect with you / To reach for what's inside of you". Moll adds in plenty of ambient effects that give the song an ethereal, hypnotic quality.
A brief piano interlude segues the way into "Anyone to Be", a somber piano-driven song laced with regrets and sadness ("places that I know I'll never go") and a feeling of resignation. Again, Fundaro's quiet vocals express these feelings quite effectively, while Moll's dramatic arrangements fill the spaces in haunting and memorable ways.
Moll and Fundaro head into Burt Bacharach territory with the congenial "Probably". Perfect horns frame this retro-feeling song about friendship connecting: "Sending out a message / A message to my soul / You probably do not know". It's very 1960s, and executed flawlessly -- short and sweet.
Distant dreams are voiced in the simple and beautiful one-minute ballad "Millionaire". Piano and vocals are the bare bones in this touching plea: "I want to be someone you'll care about and love so much every day / I want to be a millionaire / Maybe then I'll know you'll stay".
Miscommunication in relationships is the sad theme behind the minor-keyed "Sitting By the Window", wherein first a woman, then a man each regret that certain "one" who has told them goodbye respectively. I guess it proves the theory that complicated minds often just get in the way of true love.
Another short emotional vignette, "Letting Go" employs backward electronic loops to point up its halting confessional quality, a brief tale of two who are lonely, hiding behind a wall of denial. It's spare electronica in the service of raw emotion, and haunting in its own way.
Continuing along the lines of lonely self-confession, "Minor Poet" is the sung admissions of a man let down by his own dreams and who is shutting down. Lush strings in the middle of the song add poignancy to what otherwise is a straightforward sad lament.
One of the longer songs here, "Effigy" turns the corner from the sadness into a more hopeful situation, yet remains rife with emotion. Here, there is a laying down, a seeking of truth together: "Our silence speaks so loudly / Sounds will flow". Musically, there is a mesmerizing sort of baroque Beach Boys interlude that interweaves a capella vocal harmony with violin to great effect.
Another brief enchanting piano interlude paves the way toward the dulcet strains of "Deora", which serves as a sweet five-minutes worth of summing up all that's gone before. Here, on what really is the musical denouement of the album, there are more Brian Wilson-type backup vocals, more Bacharach-style horns, waves crashing in the distance and more, and a mellifluous convergence of all these sounds together into one deliciously hopeful hello and goodbye.
This leads to an actual musical farewell entitled "Goodbye" (yet another of the short and sweet variety), and an even briefer "Postlude" of piano that escorts the listener to the end of this journey.
While lesser craftsmen may have fallen into the thick syrup of being maudlin in handling such emotionally baring material, Moll and Fundaro manage to escape that fate with a light touch (both in musical choices and in timing -- the whole collection clocks in at about 32 minutes). These brief orchestral sketches manage to encompass a broad variety of musical styles -- from rock to pop to jazz to lounge to classical -- in an ambient, reflective manner.
It's safe to say this music won't be everyone's cup of tea -- for one, it's rather somber and quiet, contemplative and mostly minor-keyed, a far cry from upbeat tunes you can dance to. Consider it more musical poetry, sensitive and intelligent renderings of feelings captured successfully in true alternative/indie fashion: seemingly simple, but musically complex. Fans of this type of broodingly elegant, ethereal serenity will find it a fast favorite.
In the multi-layered soundscapes, you can hear how Fundaro and Moll have referenced their own favorites here: Air, Pernice Brothers, Belle and Sebastian, Wilco, Flaming Lips, Radiohead, Zumpano, and others. timewellspent is an auspicious debut from two talented musicians who really put a lot of time and painstaking effort into getting exactly the quality sounds they desired. With the end product an intriguing and well-executed musical journey that examines relationships from the inside out, I'd have to say it was time well spent indeed.