Lapland are not, as the name may suggest, the latest in the line of Scandinavian exports coming across the North Sea, but instead the non-de-plume of Josh Mease, a Texan born singer/songwriter now based in Brooklyn. As Lapland, Mease pretty much does everything: arranges and plays all the music, vocals and productions and, as such, his self-titled debut album is very much his vision, done his way.
His name may signify chilly climes, but listening to Lapland is an altogether warmer experience. This is a collection of gorgeously simple little pop songs that would soothe many a troubled brow. The reference points span names such as Elliott Smith, Brian Wilson and Paul McCartney, so the atmosphere is laid-back and slightly melancholy, with a light touch of ’60s psychedelia – although there’s nothing that stops it from being anything other than utterly accessible.
What’s most pleasing about Lapland is his obvious expertise in constructing songs – there’s no virtuoso guitar solos or studio noodling going on, just some beautifully crafted music. You can almost hear the care involved in layering the instruments over each other in the opening Unwise, which sounds like Radiohead‘s Everything In Its Right Place on happy pills. Tracks like Aeroplane and Where Did It Go, meanwhile, rival the likes of Josh Rouse for tasteful songwriting.
If all this makes Lapland sound a bit underwhelming, it shouldn’t do. It certainly sits unashamedly on the softer side of pop/rock, but never slides into blandness. Indeed, there are times where Lapland’s forays into experimentation sound almost other-worldly, such as the woozy instrumental Fountains or the eerie John Lennon impression on the closing Lalala. Mease is at his best though on his straight-ahead pop songs, such as the delciously jaunty Drink Me Dry – where his vocal resemblance to Elliott Smith is most uncanny – or the slow waltz of Aeroplane.
There’s a delightfully calming atmosphere at play in Mease’s world. The majority of tracks are quiet, downtempo and reflective, with only the aforementioned Drink Me Dry and the hypnotic guitar riff in Metal Lungs raising the tempo to a mild jog. Tracks such as the hazy, dreamy Memory or the yearning Where Did It Go demonstrate the more typical Lapland sound – and it’s a sound that’s so seemingly relaxed it’s easy to overlook the fact that there’s real heartbreak and angst contained in the lyrics – “why did you lie, why can’t you look me in the eye?” asks Where Did It Go, while Drink Me Dry is a pleasingly bittersweet break-up song with lines like “you were going to bleed me dry” delivered with a wistful air.
If there are any faults to be picked with Mease, it’s that he’s sometimes almost too much in thrall to his influences – they’re good influences to have, but the ghosts of Wilson, McCartney and Smith are written all over Lapland. That’s no bad thing, obviously, and no doubt on future albums Mears will start to confidently assert his own personality.
It’s an album of contradictions at heart – recorded in the most thoroughly modern of ways, yet imbued with the spirit of the ’60s; poignant and wistful, whilst also being warm and uplifting. And, ultimately, its biggest draw could be Lapland’s major disadvantage: this is so quiet and confidently understated that it would be a real shame if noisier but emptier records were to sell at its expense.