Colin MacLeod has left his home in the Isle of Lewis – and his thrash-punk roots – to take up the folk singer-songwriter torch in south-east London, working and recording under the large-looming moniker The Boy Who Trapped The Sun. His first album, Fireplace, is a genuinely delightful collection of tunes. And, while the lyrics tend to orbit around the usual failed relationships and young loneliness, the overall rightness of the arrangements more than makes up for the narrowness of scope.
MacLeod’s solo work is a far cry from those thrash-punk beginnings. Indeed, it’s tough to imagine this seemingly introverted guy wasting his whispery croon and intricate guitar style on noise and fuzz. Instead, Fireplace is largely comprised of lovely little acoustic folk arrangements. MacLeod impressively fills all the roles in the band (save the strings), sounding right at home on guitars, drums, piano, and upright bass.
Fireplace occasionally tries to shake out of its mellow mold (as on the somewhat fuzzy, thumping Home), but there’s really nothing objectionable here. The album passes like leaves floating downriver, or like high clouds sweeping across the gentle arc of a summer sky.
Fireplace opens with the sounds of waves washing ashore and fingerpicked guitar, accompanied by wistful harmonica, hinting at a sweatshirted bonfire scene. “Would you believe me if I said I was happy?” MacLeod asks an ex-lover, singing almost impossibly quiet. It’s all strangely familiar – but in a good way – and by the time the strings come in, MacLeod’s got the listener in his grasp.
The single, Katy, picks things up fantastically, bouncing and bounding and sounding a bit like Come On Eileen. Here, MacLeod sings of the passage of time in terms of VCR and DVD. He sings, “Don’t say you love me. Don’t be too hasty. Cos if you do, I’m running out the door.” This is the prototypical young modern’s love song wrapped in a deceptively formfitting autumn sweater.
“Now, I could sing a sad love song, but what if all the words were wrong?” MacLeod sings in Walking In The Dark. “Now, every time I have the time, I wonder if you’re really mine.” This one’s as moody as the album gets – swooning with piano and brushed drums – but it’s not so much a lull as a moment of quiet introspection. Antique Cobweb is also built on the back of MacLeod’s piano playing, and while the strings come off as a bit melodramatic, it’s all so earnest that it can’t be taken at anything but face value.
The only risk MacLeod runs here is that of playing it too cool, and of allowing his music, winsome and subdued as it is, to blend right in with the all-encompassing white noise around it. But he has his sound drilled down to surgical accuracy on this, his debut, so he doesn’t really need to take risks at this point. Every once in a while, it’s quite nice to pass the time with an album as laid back and easy as Fireplace.