Wednesday, April 20, 2011
Mexico City - Toby Burke
Perfect Black Swan Records.
SCQ Rating: 76%
Trying to distinguish between Toby Burke’s songs as Horse Stories and those under his own name initially seems pointless. Both distill Burke’s natural gift for songcraft without trying to pull away from each other in any obvious contextual way. Unlike November, November, his 2010 release under the Horse Stories moniker, Mexico City studies Burke’s personal vignettes through a more immediate lens, with each song being captured as opposed to being presented after countless refinements.
To Burke’s credit, this raw approach doesn’t steal much of his songwriting’s mystique. The first minute of ‘Cantina Crawl’ feels out his makeshift studio – an apartment in, you guessed it, Mexico City – before locking into a steady acoustic pick, occasionally haunted by piano, whereby Burke recounts drunken Saturday nights and the working-class weekdays that incite them. Abandoning the studio polish on these tracks feels right, allowing the piano to swell around Burke’s sentiments on ‘Young For Life’ and muddling the percussion on ‘The Great Escape’. Burke’s minimalism remains balanced, even when the rougher production boasts a sweltering closeness that renders ‘I’ve Been Waiting For You’ such a claustrophobic wonder.
That’s Burke’s Mexico City, though - a transient lowland where each song’s protagonist plots their daily escape. And judging by the album’s recording, which managed nine songs over the course of nine days, it looks as though Toby Burke survived his key role in the narrative. Don’t let Mexico City’s origins fool you; despite the document’s casual conception, Burke brings his unnerving best to these inspired sad-sack odes.