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Monday, November 20, 2017 
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+ Donato Wharton - Body Isolations
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+ Camera Obscura - Let's Get Out of This Country
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+ Sonic Youth - Rather Ripped
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+ Calexico - Garden Ruin (Review #2)
+ Calexico - Garden Ruin (Review #1)
+ The Flaming Lips - At War With The Mystics
+ The Glass Family - Sleep Inside This Wheel
+ Various Artists - Songs For Sixty Five Roses
+ The Fiery Furnaces - Bitter Tea
+ Motorpsycho - Black Hole/Blank Canvas
+ The Red Krayola - Introduction
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+ Sondre Lerche And The Faces Down Quartet - Duper Sessions
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Paul Duncan
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Be Careful What You Call Home
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Paul Duncan is a pop songwriter. Paul Duncan is an electronic experimenter. Paul Duncan sees no contradiction in these two roles, and the beauty of his second album, Be Careful What You Call Home, comes in how well they fit together, the hiss of distortion, the familiar landscapes of found sounds, the abstraction of pure instrumentals, seamlessly supporting his fragile pop songs.

Duncan has training in film and sound design, and his work reflects that background with its subtle evocation of mood and atmosphere. The cuts range from nearly naked ("In a Way," "Oil in the Fields") to fairly densely instrumented ("You Look Like an Animal"), though even the most orchestrated retain enough space for silence to show through. There are overtly pop songs alongside more free-handed instrumental interludes. There are lighthearted tracks near close-to-tragic ones. Yet overall, Be Careful What You Call Home feels beautifully and remarkably all of a piece, like a single track, with pop motifs moving in and out of focus. Listening to it is like being on a train, with the scenery slipping by, periods of serene countryside punctuated by manmade structures and cities.

You could easily extract free-standing pop songs from this brief, allusive album, slipping "You Look Like an Animal," for instance, or "Tired & Beholden" into a Sunday-morning mix tape, alongside similarly low-key cuts by Iron & Wine or the Sea & Cake. Still, this is an album you really should listen to straight through, front to back, once or twice (or even more) before passing judgment. It has an atmosphere to it that spans multiple tracks and ties disparate themes together, a mood that is alternately mournful, sardonic, wistful and even childlike, yet always tied to breezily lovely melodies. For instance, the song "Tired & Beholden" elliptically tracks a couple's argument in lyrics like "We are parodies of ourselves" or "Busy with friends... that don't look at your face" against a gossamer-light, ultra-melodic musical background. The lyrics are the needle-sharp remarks that couples make in times of stress, the music is as gentle as a sigh. The contradiction gives the piece depth, interest and a certain distance, as if these were things that mattered once, months ago, and now are only memories.

The continuity of the album comes from its combination of structured songs and more free-form instrumental pieces. For example, "Toy Bell," with its field-recorded sirens, hammering, thunder, crickets, and gently distorted keyboard sounds, serves as a bridge between the strummed-out wistfulness of "The Night Gives No Applause" and the sensual, electro-beated sway of "You Look Like an Animal." "Toy Piano" with its hazy, faraway chords and keyboard figures and sweeping string arrangements, links this latter song to the crackle-laced jangle of "Manhattan Shuffle," which leads to the joyful "Toy Bass." Then it's on to the album's saddest track, "Oil in the Fields," sparse with muted keyboard chords and Duncan's whispery vocals. The song describe the trip home for a funeral in sparse couplets ("I remember father's ring/ Remember mother's hair/ Don't recall the color of her eyes/ Until I look at mine") and mysterious enumerations ("Four-hour plane ride/ 47 suits and ties/ 23 women that I don't know." ) The song could easily go over the edge into sentimentality, but never does, anchored as it is in minimal words and sparsely shimmering sounds. When the kick of the drum and the clash of cymbals comes after the verse, it is almost like letting out a breath, the tension in the song suddenly finding a way out.

This is wonderful, carefully crafted pop experimentalism in the same vein as Akron/Family or Grizzly Bear. Allusive, glancing, dreamlike, yet, over repeat listens, deeply moving, Be Careful What You Call Home establishes Paul Duncan as a quiet talent that bears watching.


by Jennifer Kelly




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