Song of the day: Stephen Lawrenson – "Obscuriosity"

May 30, 2013

Warning: This is a marathon post. Enter ye all who dare…

A very patient young man by the name of Stephen Lawrenson (Hi, Stephen!) emailed me months and months a month ago to ask if I’d have a listen to his album, Obscuriosity. I emailed back saying I’d love to – and then promptly forgot about it. Oops.

Many apologies, Master Stephen.

Anyway, I finally remembered and finally got around to listening to Stephen’s musical baby.

I put on my official Listening Hat (Disclaimer: I don’t have an actual Listening Hat), and had a listen.

Here’s my report card:

Stephen Lawrenson – Obscuriosity (2012)

1. “Your Karma”

A nice up-tempo song to start the album.

The opening vocal melody in “Your Karma” immediately reminded me of something…

Stephen Lawrenson – “Your Karma” (2012) (excerpt)

The Beatles – “It’s All Too Much (1969) (excerpt)

But getting back to focusing on “Your Karma”: There are some very lovely “ooh”s in this song (e.g., 0:51-0:58). Yum.

And a little note about the production: I don’t know about the rest of the album, but this song has a slightly weird sound. I can’t quite pinpoint it, but it sounds like one of the treble frequencies is missing for the whole track. (3 or 4 kHz maybe?) At first I thought I thought my headphones might have been playing up, so I played some classical music and it was fine. So I guess with “Your Karma” it’s just a sonic oddity.

2. “Obscuriosity”

Supercharged 2/4 drumming starts this one, with Stephen singing through one of those vocal filters I don’t like (where the voice sounds slightly distorted and megaphone-y, à la The Strokes).

Then “Obscuriosity” settles into a pre-1965 song (with post-1965 guitars).

Another production note: The bass guitar sounds a bit too tubby (i.e., indistinct lower frequencies) for me in this song.

By the way, there’s a part of this song that reminds me of something else. The section contains a Mellotron sound (first time, 1:19-1:32), and it features a mildly exotic, not-terribly-common chord progression. It’s prompted me to wonder what other pop song I’ve heard that in. Maybe I’m thinking of Led Zeppelin‘s “Kashmir“. That uses G minor to A major as well:

Stephen Lawrenson – “Obscuriosity” (2012) (excerpt)

Led Zeppelin – “Kashmir (1975) (excerpt)

Also by the way, the vocal melody that starts each verse (i.e., “Have I lost control…” at 0:14, “Leave well enough alone…” at 0:40, “Waiting for a girl…” at 1:33 etc.) also reminds me of something else.

Unfortunately for me, the end of the song (from 4:03 onwards) made me feel a little nauseous when the Mellotron detuned itself. I found that a very unpleasant sound.

Brief Summary Of The Album

Despite the nausea-inducing end of track 2, I’m liking this album. I know I’m only two songs into it, but I like what I’ve heard so far.

I have a feeling there won’t be too many stinkers on Obscuriosity.

The Rest Of The Album

3. “Edge Of The World”

Oh-oh. The “Hey, that sounds like…” reminders continue.

This time I was reminded of two songs, even before Stephen started singing.

At the very beginning of “Edge Of The World” there’s a steam whistle. It instantly reminded me of something else:

Stephen Lawrenson – “Edge Of The World” (2012) (excerpt 1)

Billy Joel – “Allentown (1982) (excerpt)

And immediately after the steam whistle is some very pleasant 12-string acoustic guitar work which reminded me of:

Stephen Lawrenson – “Edge Of The World” (2012) (excerpt 2)

Air Supply – “Love And Other Bruises” (1976) (excerpt)

I must admit that I’m not bothered at all by all these reminders of other songs, because I really like all those other songs.

At 0:19 the Billy Joel and Air Supply reminders went away and I was listening to a mid-tempo song that sounded dreamy.

As I was listening to “Edge Of The World” I was trying to think of how to describe it. And then it dawned on me: I can desrcibe it by saying saying “Edge of The World” is a prog-rock song, but without fancy time-signatures and virtuosic playing.

4. “Words To Say”

When this start, the only word I could think of was “Jangle!”, but once the introduction was out of the way it settled into an enjoyable mid-tempo Merseybeat-ish song.

I’ve now arrived at the guitar solo (1:07-1:22) and I feel compelled to say this: I don’t like the sound of the guitar playing the solo. At first I thought it was a MIDI guitar, but then the sliding notes reassured me of the possibility that there was a real person playing a real guitar here. I hope that’s a real person playing a real guitar.

I liked the section from 1:35-1:51 featuring a key change and a 12-string acoustic guitar casually playing a relaxing tune. It’s very nice. Unfortunately, I wasn’t especially fond of the sound effect applied to that 12-string acoustic guitar. To me, one of these…

…sounds fabulous as it is, but I thought the one I heard in the break sounded over-processed. Ah well. That section of the song was still very nice, though.

When the key-change section finished (at 1:51), I thought it was cheeky how the song went immediately back to its original key, acting as if that key change had never happened.

But I’ll mention something I liked in this song. I liked that electric piano (from 2:59 onwards). But (Warning: Production Nitpicking Alert) I would have preferred it appearing in the song earlier.

And it’s time for another musical reminder…

In the 12-string acoustic guitar break, the opening melody reminds me of a bit o’ Elvis:

Stephen Lawrenson – “Words To Say” (2012) (excerpt)

Elvis Presley – “Return To Sender (1962) (excerpt)

The two melodies are in different keys, but you can easily sing “I sent a letter to the postman” to Stephen’s acoustic guitar melody.

5. “Small White House”

A jaunty, piano-led ditty – and I like it a lot. I also really like the orchestration. It’s minimal, but it gets the job done very efficiently.

It’s reminder time again. There’s a banjo in the song (0:48-0:56) that plays a little thing…

Stephen Lawrenson – “Small White House” (2012) (excerpt)

Jellyfish – “The Ghost At Number One (1993) (excerpt)

From 1:20-1:32 things get a little psychedelic, courtesy of some backwards cymbal work. Groovy, man.

From 1:32-1:42 there’s a sound effect that made me queasy. I don’t know what it was (a backwards Mellotron perhaps?), but it didn’t sound too healthy to me.

2:07-2:08 – the word “how” is phrased beautifully. That “how” might be my favourite part of the song.

From 2:12-2:24 the backwards cymbal has made a reappearance, accompanied by some stacked Beach Boys-style vocals-and-woodblock. And following that (from 2:24-2:40), there’s a jingle bell in the sound mix, also à la Beach Boys. Yep. I like this song.

I also like the unpredictable ending. (I certainly didn’t predict it.) If you haven’t heard the song yet (or the ending at least), I won’t spoil it for you – except to say that “Small White House” might not end the way you think it will.

6. “2nd Time Around”

This track start with just an acoustic guitar, a bass drum, and a snare drum. I thought it was a pleasant way to start the song – although I’m not keen on the sound of that snare drum. (It sounds like the head has been tightened too much.)

When that guitar-and-drum introduction was out of the way, the song began properly with the repetition of a couple of simple chords (F major and D minor) and a very nice bass line. (Bass Player Nerd Talk: In this song I would have love to have heard the bass line played by either Fender Jaguar Bass or a Rickenbacker 4003.)

The more I’m listening to this song, the more I’m thinking of The Sutherland Brothers & Quiver.

In the interests of speeding up this post (it’s already way too long), I’ll just say that I like this song a fair bit.

7. “Ordinary”

When this track started it offered only a little reminder (of this part of Rush’s “Xanadu”).

I don’t know how Stephen feels about Teenage Fanclub (he might like them more than I do), but I think “Ordinary” has a bit of a Teenage Fanclub vibe to it. This isn’t meant to be an insult, just an observation that the tempo of Stephen’s song is an exact match to approximately 97.329% of all Teenage Fanclub songs.

There’s a nice extended middle section in the song from 1:55-2:29. I liked that section because it sounded more like glam rock and less like Teenage Fanclub. (If given the choice between Teenage Fanclub and glam, I go with The Big G every time.)

Overall, I liked “Ordinary”.

8. “Forever And A Day”

Well, this is a bit of a come-down. Here’s a song that’s put a stop to the jauntiness/jollity/japery of the previous seven songs. I’m sure “Forever And A Day” is heartfelt, but I found it dreary.

Never mind.

At least the next song will be more up-tempo. (I hope.)

9. “Thank You”

You’re welcome, Stephen.

Yep. Like this one. Although (Warning: Production Whinge) the sibilance on Stephen’s voice sounds a bit weird.

Hmm. As I was typing the above paragraph, the song finished. That was way too short. Or maybe I took way too long to type that paragraph.

10. “Pale Yellow”

Oh-oh. I haven’t haerd it yet, but any song that has the word “yellow” in it automatically reminds me of Coldplay’s “Yellow”. I loathe that song. (To me, it’s like U2 on sedatives.)

I hope Stephen’s yellow song is going to be a whole lot more enjoyable than Coldplay’s.

(Note to self: Well, why don’t you just press “play” button and listen to it instead of moaning about something you haven’t heard yet?)

Oh yeah. Press “play”.

OK. I’m now listening to “Pale Yellow”.

Phew. That’s better.

“Pale Yellow” reminds me of Electric Light Orchestra. Nothing specific – just an overall ambience, or vibe, or whatever you want to call the sensation known as “It reminds me of Electric Orchestra”.

Nice falsetto from Stephen at 1:47-1:48.

1:59-2:03 – Electric Light Orchestra.

2:07-2:10 – Very Electric Light Orchestra.

I like the pizzicato strings from 2:14 onwards. But I’d like them more if they were: a) played an octave higher; b) recorded more clearly; and c) real violins instead of synthesized ones.

I like the guitar solo (3:34-4:01) – except for the pentatonic scale used to end it. The solo is very mid-rangey in tone. Actually, the whole song’s sound is focused on the mid-range frequencies. If anyone asks “Hey, Peter, what’s ‘Pale Yellow’ like?”, I can say “It’s mid-rangey”.

And another thing to put on the “like” list for this song: I like the burst of background vocals from 4:01 onwards.

Oh, and one last thing before I wrap up this painfully long post…

I heard another coincidence:

Stephen Lawrenson – “Pale Yellow” (2012) (excerpt)

Andy Williams – “Moon River (1961) (excerpt)

***

That’s it. I think I’ve finished this post. If you made it all the way to here, then you have much more stamina than I would have imagined. Thank you for persevering.

I’d like to give you some kind of reward, but I can’t think of anything other than handing over the album so you can enjoy it on your own, without my interruptions. I won’t do that, though, because Stephen would prefer you to buy it.

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