Sunday, June 13, 2010
Buds - CJ Young
SCQ Rating: 58%
Behind all the naïve or overwrought ideas that go into a debut album, the ultimate goal for a musician is always to articulate their worth, to exercise their capacity to connect with a listener. As conventional as it sounds, most acts will dedicate their debut to driving that desire throughout a united body of songs but CJ Young, the London-based songwriter, enjoys skirting such conventions. Whereas most bands wouldn’t mind finding a niche audience on the heels of a first release, Young sets the bar higher for his EP Buds, which collects several varied styles in a bid to confound his talent from being pigeonholed.
Buds succeeds in mystifying those who’d like to classify its random mix of left-leaning folk and old-school rhythm-and-blues. And there’s something to be said for Young’s confidence, which allows these divergent exercises in songwriting to speak for themselves and stand vulnerably out of context next to one another. Buds falters not because Young is spreading his muse so thin, but because his genre choices are so unflattering side by side. Although ‘Fireflies’, a romantic peppering of soft guitar notes that converge upon a muscular acoustic instrumental, prepares the listener for an intricate home-listening record, Young follows up by howling like a young Tom Waits over ‘Underbelly’’s urban blues. This seesaw of intimate clarity versus boisterous rock-and-roll continues throughout Buds’ six tracks, with the former ‘Fireflies’-led material maintaining its appeal and the latter, louder group of songs getting progressively worse. As if the divide between his quietly adventurous folk-based songs and those regrettable throwbacks weren’t distracting enough, Young trades his vocal-style just as jarringly. For the unsettling rasp and wooziness of ‘Broken Umbrellas’ to appear on the same disc as ‘Fireflies’ (which first attracted my ear to Buds) begs a harsh but vital observation: by connecting to any aspect of this EP, one is being polarized by the rest of it.
Considering the bizarre gauntlet Young has presented, it’s possible Buds is polarizing with purpose although I haven’t found any aspect to this theory that would benefit the listener. At Young’s request, I even spent the majority of my Buds-listening on high-quality headphones, since he stated headphones were needed to appreciate the “three-dimensional” production and his ability to “make a sound fly across your face”. If by that he means moving a guitar-figure from right speaker to left and back again, I suppose headphones help. The ragged guitar of ‘Five Years Old’, on the other hand, is something you should barely hear over bar-chatter when you’re too drunk to care what the jukebox is playing. What Buds needs isn't headphones, it's focus.