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Careful - Oh, Light

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Artist: Careful

Album: Oh, Light

Label: Sounds Super

Review date: Jan. 14, 2011

Careful’s second album, Oh, Light, could hardly be more intimate. And yet there’s a fantastic oddity in these folk-centered, jazz-infused, songs, the best sort of self-recorded eccentricity. These are skeletal songs, yet twisted subtly into fantastical, gothic shapes.

Lindley is a smart guy who sounds passionately interested in the way music works -- that is, how sounds translate into experiences that convey thought, emotion and ideas. He

graduated from Dartmouth College, for instance, with an unusual dual degree in music composition and physics. As a result, it’s not surprising that his songs use technology to extend Lindley’s capabilities beyond the unprocessed voice and guitar. You can hear overt bits of scratchy static and synthesized orchestral instruments in Oh, Light. There’s also an unearthly gloss on some of the singing that feels as heightened and unreal as CGIs in film.

Even so, these songs are fundamentally human. They are vulnerable, minimally adorned and powerful – and more than a little warped by a sharp, unconventional mind. Lindley’s “Scrappy,” a tribute to Neutral Milk Hotel singer Jeff Magnum, sidesteps songwriting cliché through sheer oddity. “I hate to think that all these paper roses that I spit up were wasted,” he sings.

Lindley’s knack is to make electronic enhancement sound pure and simple, as on the plain, stunning “Lain, or Laid.” Two voices, both his, neither more than a notch over a whisper, join in shifting harmonies and dissonance. Each is quiet yet rounded and full of eerie resonance. There’s a wide space between the phrases, and a funny stop-start guitar line, so that the song seems to forge ahead and then pause, then move ahead again.

Careful sounds, at times, like Sam Amidon’s chopped and re-arranged Americana, at others like Grizzly Bear’s chorally arranged romantic pop, yet maybe the soundest comparison is to self-taught British self-recorder Songs of Green Pheasant. Like Lindley, he manages to make his tunes sound misty and indefinite, while at the same time right next to your ear. It’s this combination of eerie spirituality and intimacy that makes Oh, Light so transfixing.

There’s also a bit of a Venus flytrap phenomenon at work, as Lindley uses the most beautiful music to deliver disturbing lyrical content. But, in a way, that’s the appeal of a record like this, beautiful on its surface, serene and easy to listen to right way, but fraught with hidden complexity. Oh, Light is simultaneously as simple as a guy singing in your ear, and as intricately wrought and densely populated as a Terry Gilliam movie. You could spend a year trying to get the bottom of it, and why not?

By Jennifer Kelly

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