With a high cascade of sound from the scratchy throat of a trumpet, spreading,
thick and clinging, over a shimmering bank of flutes, slowly surging, Carousel
Waltz is one of the most brazenly hopeful albums released this year. It's
a sound fleshed out by mallet percussion, the tender rasp of accordions unwinding
against a sky of crackling vinyl, and the winsome words of a man who, after retreating
inside himself like a turtle, seems to have made himself available to others. Carousel
love as its fulcrum and, while this often entails its getting lost in the marshes
and unruly stench of sentimentalism, love is nevertheless an emotion that fascinates
on account of its fragile constitution.
Across 11 pieces of doggedly sawed strings, sun-bleached guitar harmonies and lovely, if borderline twee, orchestral stabs, Ryland Bouchard's homemade songs radiate and swell like summer heat-hazes, sketching sentiments so palpable each listener becomes an actor lodged in the events, wishing him well, questioning his motives and, on occasion, even rebuking him for his decisions. On "Where Love Goes" for instance, he murmurs "Will you hold me up/ Watch me sleep at night/ And be my reason to live?" and seems worryingly dependent. Couple this with other pieces, such as "Just One Girl," and it seems Bouchard simply wishes to expunge his presence into the object of his affection. Elsewhere, within the rainbow-colored trumpet glissandos of "Tonight" and modulated bells and phantom choir of "Come Together," Bouchard places too much weight on the Other, intoning "Come together/ We can change anything!," as he seeks out some unnatural state of equilibrium and rest. For this reason, it's the compositions of more metallic resonance, or others pelted by rhythmic flecks of static and guitar-driven steam, that most beguile for their restrained yet emotional presence.
From the low brooding sounds of "Bad Feelings" onward, successive pieces span wide territories, from raucous marches and folk dance to aggressive jazz and freeform. Although they're a trifle opaque, "Regret" and "This Love Is Waiting" reveal hooks after a few listens. But for the most part, while the album is pleasant, it takes awhile to open up. And once opened up, it's nice, but hardly revolutionary. While previous works were quirky explorations, etching lines through the thumbed pages of indie pop, drawing funny faces on the stern figures, doodling and otherwise rewriting the plot in order to propel it towards an open future, Carousel Waltz is content to play connect-the-dots with traditional lo-fi folk pop, drawing coherent images, united by the hymnal mood that runs along each piece like a river joining its townspeople.
With "Hi, Love," Bouchard erects a bridge between availability to others and
the ongoing need to remain committed to one's own projects. Against a bluegrass
guitar melody, a throbbing oscillation emanates as though from one's sinus cavity,
as Bouchard sighs "Standing up is the easy fight/ Sitting down is violence/ Sometimes
the way to change/ Starts with silence."
The album on the whole preaches against hardening descriptive and evaluative categories, as well as self-imposed alienation. Death not often being the resolved chord at the end of a melody, Carousel Waltz appears momentarily liberated from the immediate embroilments that often sit like planks in one's eyes. It seems to discover the value of relationships characterized by mutual collaboration a freedom that realizes it does not belong to itself. As such, what at first seems the joyous affirmation of love quickly spirals into a reconsideration of what it is to care for another person, as well as for the world in which one lives.