This was originally posted on 7th September 2010. See the article here.
‘American (Fever) Dream’ is the third album from Seattle-based piano songsmith Aaron English. Over the past few years buzz has been steadily building in the states, and now it seems Aaron has set his sights on breaking through overseas; England for the English as it were.
The album is a consistent mish-mash of styles. Unfortunately it was delivered to me without any indication of tracklisting, so what follows will be a study of the songs alphabetically. Radical.
‘A Northern Sort of Silence’ opens with atmospheric white noise, reminiscent ofRadiohead’s ‘Nice Dream’, before a circular plinky-plonky piano motif enters. Aaron’s vocal rumbles in the foreground, as a trampolining bass-line stabs away in the background. Primary focus here should be on the lyrics, which deserve special attention. Unlike a lot of singer-songwriters you will come across, Aaron’s lyrics have a real poetic quality, packed with nuance and flow. The words are delivered with a punch by confident falsetto in the choruses. The overall auditory package reminds me of a more polished older-brother of Semisonic’s ‘Pleasure EP’; there is a world-weariness, skewed with conviction. The musical strength of this song is in the groove, which is allowed to tacet in the last third, cutting down to choral backing vocals, enabling the piece to float away briefly before kicking back in.
‘Anthem’ starts awash with psychedelic backing vocals delivering dense chords. The main vocal encroaches heavily into Lou Reed territory, with English’s American drawl being highly pronounced. Acoustic guitars provide an energetic double-time backbeat, a four-to-the-floor kick drum underpinning sing-along “dum dum”s. The catchy scatting may be a cheap trick, but it works. Block vocals slide back in, and Aaron’s presumably trademark electric piano makes another appearance. The chorus works very well, a natural ebb and flow with everything moving freely in tandem that is stylistically interesting in contrast to the static verses
‘Believe’ starts well with a distant sample and drums that jump-start the track with an energetic forward momentum, but too soon we are in familiar Americana territory. Lyrically it is too limited, relying heavily on repetition. An eerie slide guitar hovers in the background like the ghost of a tiny bee. One feels that the electric piano could be used a bit more sparsely here, as it clouds the delicate texture somewhat.
In ‘Doves’ the piano feels more vital, and the swing tempo is a welcome change. It gives the album some breathing room, beginning with a sparse arangment. Backing vocals bark like a sympathetic mob. The atmospherics do not detract from the initial impact, and the melody meanders and wanders creating a sensation that is heartfelt, and never over-done. The lyric “I’m coming down like a dove” will no doubt raise a titter between the Shooting Stars fans amongst you, but the vocals here showcase how much more impressive Aaron’s voice is when it reaches the middle and higher registers, enthralling as the low, gravelly delivery is. This will no doubt be the highlight of the live shows.
‘God Bless You and Your Man’ is a bit of a mixed gem. I assume Aaron is not a greatUB40 admirer. The press release likens this track to Van Morrison, so if you imagine those two acts fused you might get somewhere close to visualising this track. Once again English is in his higher register here, which feels more organic, the overall vocal timbre occasionally morphing into the lovechild of Robert Plant andBrandon Flowers for brief instances. Some of the lyrics rely on primary school rhyming, but it’s all delivered with feeling. The brass is tastefully arranged, and not the constant Ronson-esque barrage that I feared it would develop into. The upbeat organ tends to push the track too far into the novelty spectrum for it to be entirely convincing.
‘Peace’ is an apt title for this low-key piano number. There harmony follows standard pop progressions, but the vocal and lyrics are hugely engaging. Blasts of brass and wind add vitality and colour, cutting through the air like a military fanfare.
‘Sleight of Heart’ is a mood piece, propelled by groovy percussion and bass. Musically it is fairly static, so a more adventurous vocal melody would be appreciated here, but when Aaron goes for those big notes, there is a hint of Bono at his best. Synthy drip-drops in the background add more vibrancy to the texture, but it never moves too far away from the initial musical sentiment.
Light piano twinklings and low-passed drums add rhythmic definition to ‘The Name of this Song is a Secret’, which rounds off the album nicely.
‘American (Fever) Dream’ showcases a talent that is very real and proficient; he knows his strengths and he sticks to them. It would be good to see a bit more musical development, and maybe even a few pop hooks to allow the music to burrow into your brain, but what Aaron English has achieved here will surely fill you with much deserved admiration and respect.