Patrick Watson is a band named after a California-born Canadian called Patrick Watson. Patrick Watson is Patrick Watson’s front man. Close To Paradise is his, and their, debut album. It’s all a bit complicated.
And that’s fine, because Closer To Fine is a bit complicated too. Watson’s high tenor voice lands somewhere at the Chris Martin end of the Jeff Buckley scale. Luscious Life even borrows what sound like whole vocal phrases from Buckley’s Grace album, and Watson is as fond of falsetto as he is of multi-layered vocalising. This, combined with reverse-recorded loops of noise, a hotch-potch of piano, banjo, accordion and – on Daydreamer – a slide guitar reminiscent of Pink Floyd, adds up to a big sound that’s also intricate, if never especially intimate.
Fans of Andrew Bird and Sufjan Stevens are likely to plug straight in to Slip Into Your Skin, closing-up-shop final track Bright Shiny Lights and The Great Escape, while treated vocals and saw combine in The Storm to flag up an affinity with Devendra Banhart. At least at the beginning, before suddenly female backing vocalists and electric guitar appear from who knows where.
Closer To Paradise’s production and its intricate arrangements, with switchback rhythms and variations of intensity, instrumentation and mood every few bars, all add up to an album that, for all its melodic quality, doesn’t allow for more than a couple of singalong moments. Lyrics – and potential hooks – swish past unremembered. Where Rufus Wainwright would stick to straightforward song structures to highlight a mood or a phrase that then embeds instantly in the brain, Watson’s brand of the grandiose – evidenced on Weight Of The World – is a flightier thing.
Some of the lovely piano phrases would work with voice alone, rather than being buried amongst off-kilter strings, noise samples and whatever else the band had to hand at the time. Even on the piano-led Mr Tom there are washes of guitar and echoes of other squeaks and strums. Chances are it would have been a more memorable without such distractions. As it is, it’s close to paradise, but not quite there.
Yet spin this album more than a couple of times and it has the potential to snuggle its way into an affectionate place, for its delight in experimentation, even if it ultimately suffers from the kitchen-sink approach. A complicated record from start to end then, but least it’s quite impossible to accuse Watson of sticking to a conventional formula, and he/they should be applauded for that.