A very smart sampler from thedrakeeffect’s new series of discs called The Voyage, this debut effort focuses on acoustic rock tracks – offering a stripped-down take on some of life’s more interesting sideroads, dead ends and freeway pileups. That they do it in a pop-focused way, despite boasting a much more contemplative series theme, gives Acoustica this memorable verve. It’s high concept music, free of – well, the concept.
First, there’s “Seventeen” – which begins with a layered moment of confusion, this confluence of languages and of sound that perfectly conveys a weird sense of disconnect. thedrakeeffect then launches into a power-pop exploration of the challenges of raising a head-strong daughter. The call-and-response (“don’t care what you think,” “don’t care what you say”) cunningly sums up the disconnect that often tears these relationships asunder – though the song’s most interesting element might just be its serrated groove, a sound that combines Peter Drake’s bloody-knuckled guitar riffs, Kevin Connelly’s thunking drums and a rumbling swirl of keyboards. There may be no more perfect musical approximation of the tornadic emotions surrounding those coming-of-age years.
The track also works as a terrific appetizer, not just for Acoustica, but also for all four albums from thedrakeeffect, which promise to pull apart the group’s musical interpretation of Thomas C. Cole’s legendary series of paintings [featured in the embedded video above] called “The Voyage of Life.” The intent is to narrow their output using musical themes – rather than narrative ones. After this album, thedrakeeffect plans to release MelloDrama, focusing on their more orchestral sides, then move on to ballads and then to pop/rock. These bite-sized compilations provide intriguing glimpses into a project that will, in a broader sense, travel from childhood, to youth, to manhood to old age across four discs, with the Voyager as their main character.
What makes Acoustica so intriguing, however, is that it moves around within these larger life themes – and, as such, is probably much more accessible for the average listener in an era of impossibly short attention spans. Over the course of seven recordings, thedrakeeffect never gets bogged down. Acoustica also benefits from working within a very approachable, easily digestible soundscape – one that often recalls, for instance, the Beatles and the Beach Boys. As with those blockbuster pop acts, their music’s lithe, mainstream appeal often makes complex concepts far more palatable.
That’s certainly the case, for instance, with “In this Moment (Don’t Be Afraid),” which features a pleading vocal from Ian Owen. Here, thedrakeeffect brilliantly works the seam between the most idyllic ruminations from John Lennon and the post-modern pop distillations of XTC. “Boy to a Man,” with its chirpy keyboards and spoken-word lyric, doubles back into a new-wave iconoclasm, while “Little Girl” incorporates a folk-rock cadence to this very cool effect. “Only You,” though it’s powered by a searching, quite dark guitar figure, has the sing-songy lovability of Ringo Starr’s early solo work. Morgan Scott’s gurgling Hammond work only cements the song’s polyester-era credentials. “In the End,” meanwhile, delves into the post-adolescent fears that made the best of Brian Wilson’s work so deeply, forever resonant. Finally, there is “If Only,” a soaring psych-rock finale that explores the roads not taken, the goals unmet, the choices that we’re too fearful to make.
How all of this dovetails into the larger sequence of thedrakeeffect discs, recorded and produced at Massachusetts’ Waterville Sound, remains to be seen. But Acoustica, by leveraging what might just be the group’s most musically approachable tunes, has them off to a great start.