Easy listening. Those two words can be deceptive, and in the case of Timewellspent, downright misleading. Popping this disc into my computer, my informative iTunes player, in addition to displaying the correct track listing and artist, identifies Timewellspent as an easy listening group. Horrible visions of Burt Bacharach, Jimmy Buffett and Herb Albert filled my mind, but from the first note, Timewellspent certainly aren't simple, carefree lounge music. Their debut, self-titled album is a decadent, swirling foray influenced by the swirling pop of '60s and soft psychedelia of the '70s.
An aura of melancholy falls upon this CD before even opening up the digipack. The cover appears to be the corner of a bed, tinted a pale sad blue, with the band's name in a small, neat typeface. The music, however, is not nearly as simple as the artwork. An aural experience, sound falls and rises, swimming around your head; unfortunately the songwriting team of Casey Fundaro and Christopher Moll fall short of making this a truly memorable experience. The simplicity of their pop songs are betrayed by an ambitious production that tries to make these songs more than what they are.
From the first notes, Timewellspent quickly establish that they aren't your ordinary "easy listening" band. Their britpop-meets-Beach Boys pop is cloaked in despondent lyrical sentiments. Opening song "I Want To Tell You" finds Fundaro sadly crooning: "Anticipate you from afar / Is who I see now who you are? / I want to tell you / Never understand at all / The way I feel / How far I'll fall". Fundaro's lyrics can hardly be called poetic, and the blank simplicity works most of the time. However, on some occasions he has difficulty in escaping laughable clichès. "Anyone To Be" perfectly illustrates this point with the laughable opening: "Clown with a smile / Sadness all the while".
Musically, Fundaro and Moll succeed in fusing a wide variety of styles into a singular sound. "I Know You" is a drugged out, reverb heavy lullaby. Tearing a page from Belle & Sebastian's songbook, "Probably" lopes along with gentle horns and vibraphones. "Minor Poet" burns with alt-country air while "Deora" sounds like a lost Travis ballad. The best song on the album, "Millionaire" evokes a meeting between Jeff Tweedy and Stephin Merritt, combining a sparse piano line and perfectly self-pitying lyrics.
Timewellspent find their footing in the simpler, pop-driven songs. However, Fundaro and Moll unfortunately reach for more ambitious territory. Scattered among the album are four thirty-second instrumentals. "Hello", "Interlude 1", "Interlude 2" and "Postlude" are haunted excursions that try to push the album into Yankee Hotel Foxtrot territory. Where Jim O'Rourke's production brought cohesion to Wilco's fractured masterpiece, here these obviously influenced pieces stick out like a sore thumb. There is little mixer Thom Monahan can do to make this work.
Timewellspent have constructed some beautiful sweeping pop, even if on their debut they have their sights set on a goal they don't yet have the capabilities to reach. Fundaro and Moll seem to be reaching for a sound somewhere between Pet Sounds and the aforementioned Wilco benchmark, but fail to realize that their gifts are right in front of them. While their debut isn't perfect, there are some beautiful pop songs hiding here, and if you have the time, they're worth fishing out.