Managed by The Strokes boss Ryan Gentles, and citing influences from The Verve to Van Morrison, dainty tongued crooner Luke Rathborne is surely faced with the worrying task of living up to many a tall hope. Whether such expectations are to be fulfilled remains to be seen following his second release, which, sadly, frequently evokes little more than a exasperated grunt during occurrences of unsatisfying misspent talent.
At 22, the Maine-born singer-songwriter has an admirable back catalogue for his age. There are instances during his newest album that indicate a optimistic natural progression following first venture After Dark (2007). The melancholic Motor City pairs a faraway rumble of percussion with devastating vocal peaks and a delicate mumble that makes comparisons to the gorgeous whisperings of Elliott Smith agreeable. Indeed, reminiscent of Smith’s fondness for blending beautiful intricate acoustic melodies with a deliberate beat is Dog Years, which begins with the sort of lip-twitchingly twee riff usually expected of Joshua Radin, and climaxes with curvy western vocals that glimmer with early Bob Dylan. It is here, with every ounce of direction and effort thrown towards his craft, that Rathborne’s ambition shines, in the brightest example of skill and determination. Lonesome fireside toaster Solon Town is similar in tone, warming cockles subtly as timidly plucked melodies are punctuated by a confident lyrical interruption.
The trouble arises, however, following Rathborne’s refusal to step back and appreciate the importance and beauty of the very bare bones of his songs. Though tracks such as Dog Years work exceedingly well, it is difficult not to yearn for a stripped down approach, one willing to take note of the skeletal tenderness of Nick Drake‘s Pink Moon. Rathborne is often so intent on flashing each of his musical cards that tracks with a flicker of greatness, such as the string-laden Sad Days, become almost bloated with lack of focus. In those instances, a simple target would benefit his work tremendously.
Molar-grinding opening track Tomorrow is an instance of the hindrances of over-reliance on preferred musical motivations. In this gradually layering star gazer, Rathborne’s love for The Verve is so apparent that his efforts to emulate their style become glumly and simplistically copy and paste. An intention to dabble in the sort of creaky vocal turn occasionally preferred by Richard Ashcroft works better in You Let Me In, which opens with a stirring croak of “New York City puts lines on your face/ When you feel your body as it starts to break.” Rich and rounded, the album’s closing number incorporates steady soulful anguish for a gentle finish.
Although Rathborne boasts obvious musical skill and cheering potential, optimistic critical comparisons to style-cousins often fall disappointingly flat. Yet this is a cheeringly creative eponymous release, replete with melodic strengths and structure.