Who he? Well, Robert Gomez is apparently a very deep and intense young man from Denton, Texas. He is part of a burgeoning set of artists on Bella Union, a label that is hoovering up talent in that town like a great big genre-crossing anteater, that also includes his buddies and big fans Midlake. And in what is a splendid rock n roll story, Gomez lived with the circus for six months – hence the album’s peripatetic title.
In short, his debut knows what it wants, but can’t quite reach the heights it sets itself. On albums like Figure 8 and Either/Or, Elliot Smith combined his innately sublime songwriting, expert production and the demons in his head to produce a lo-fi lusciousness that will forever live in the hearts of all who heard it. It was an ephemeral, ghostly sound, and Gomez makes an admirable attempt at the same thing, with vocals wraithlike and a melancholy that seems genuine, yet lacks the monomaniacal intent of a Smith record.
Brand New Towns is highly listenable and interesting, and is fairly experimental, mixing as it does the acoustic with the electronic, the aggressive (Closer Still) with the brooding (All We Got) and is by all means worthy of investigation by fans of America’s (more accomplished) modern folk heroes like Bright Eyes or Will Oldham.
But those fans would be concerned by the lack of fluency here, admittedly something only noticeable because of the high points that occasionally punctuate, but never dominate, this album. Gomez combines urgency and melody on Back To Me to great effect, topped off with a Beatley chorus Smith would have approved of. Perfect is a slow building, monotonous ballad of utter despair, replete with French accordion.
Too often though, a lack of conviction and imagination in the songwriting is papered over with strings, or some other layered instrumentation – tracks that particularly fall short being Into The Sun, Mistress and You Need Somebody. Furthermore, he would do well to sometimes, just sometimes, poke his head above the ocean of minor keys and see what’s there.
This is dull, but there is enough simmering under the tepid surface to suggest Gomez might later evolve into the artist he is clearly trying to be. It sounds like he has the right sensibilities and has listened to all the right people – he just needs to fuse this with that crucial ingredient: his own character and his own heart (I mean melodically, of course – lyrically, his heart is very much bared), because without those, this record is lacking a spine.