Monday, May 2, 2011

Gold In the Shadow - William Fitzsimmons

Gold In the Shadow

William Fitzsimmons
Nettwerk Records.

SCQ Rating: 74%

This shit’s bound to be sold in Starbucks soon, if it isn’t already on the racks. I don’t like being so prophetic with regards to William Fitzsimmons’ burgeoning music career but the whole package – the whispery vocals, the pleasant use of electronic beats, even the goddamned cover-art – belongs to a template designed for mass consumption. Take a pinch of Iron & Wine’s intimacy, a morsel of Damien Rice’s desolate drama and a slice of David Gray’s production circa White Ladder; the resulting concoction would feel stripped from each of these artists if Fitzsimmons failed to own these songs the way he does. After all, beneath the stylistic turns in which these songs veer to appeal to caffeinated cross-marketing scouts, Gold In the Shadow showcases solid, mostly engaging songwriting that only Fitzsimmons can take credit for.

Ushered in on probably the record’s most honest, vulnerable note, ‘The Tide Pulls From the Moon’ yearns for connection with a lush backing of piano, bass, drums and woozy pedal steel. Its full-blooded ensemble caters to Fitzsimmons’ smooth voice instead of challenging it and builds steam over the sappy but satisfying ‘Beautiful Girl’ and the upbeat ‘The Winter From Her Leaving’. Yes, many of these songs confront mental illness (the songwriter’s a psychotherapist by day) but they also reside in the afterglow of the other side, of having survived one’s demons. Fans won’t like hearing that; Gold In the Shadow is a tuneful breather from Fitzsimmons’ emotionally exhausting back-catalog and a step away from the self-loathing most listeners bank on. As mournful as they are brisk, these early tracks merely foreshadow a songwriter who’s clearly restless for a larger audience; it’s what comes next that might just grant his wishes.

The couplet smack-dab in the album’s middle looks toward crisp electronics as a vehicle for Fitzsimmons’ coming-of-age, and it largely does the trick. Subtle atmospherics and computerized bass match perfectly to the airy guitar in ‘Fade and Then Return’, whereas beats and female backing vocals take proceedings a bit closer to pop in ‘Psychasthenia’. There’s no question that the fight over William Fitzsimmons’ creative path rests between that couplet and the Frou Frou-indebted ‘Let You Break’ but it’s hard to validate cries of “sell-out” when his songs settle in electro-assisted arrangements so well.

Moreover, Gold In the Shadow falls flat when it revisits the folky template for a final string of songs. None of these three slow-burners rise beyond ho-hum acoustic pleasantness, as ‘Wounded Knee’ and ‘Tied To Me’ would rather extend the tender vibes of previous tracks than assert or distinguish themselves. The lull also places more emphasis on Fitzsimmons’ who, despite many tries, isn’t much of a soul singer. True to its “other side” narratives, Gold In the Shadow marks a crossroads for Fitzsimmons’ artistry. And while embracing light electronics may damn his claustrophobic integrity, those experiments fare alongside the best on this release.

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