Album from this year’s winner of the Vic Chesnutt Songwriter competition.
The press release for this album describes Elijah Johnston as an “Emo indie-pop singer-songwriter and recovering lo-fi addict from Athens, Georgia”. That’s this album pretty much summed up in a single sentence. This is a decidedly low-fi, ‘shoe gazing’ album that’s quite difficult to get to grips with at times. It certainly sits comfortably into the broad concept of americana, with a lot of shimmering, jangly guitars and a quite folky feel and there are some good songs here in a slightly detached, other worldly way.
The album gets off to a solid start with opener ‘Greatest Hits’, featuring those jangly guitars and some nicely dry humour in the lyric –
“Don’t worry, I’m not satanic, I just like to wear dark clothes
Although I’ve never been manic, I still think I can hear your ghost”
It’s a strong start and sets you up for what is to come, which is, largely, more of the same.
It seems that this album has been released in the wake of renewed interest in Johnston on the Athens circuit, where he’s steadily been building a reputation as a strong live performer. The single from the album, ‘Molly Haskell’, won him the coveted Vic Chesnutt Songwriter of the Year award this year, a competition for songwriters in the Athens area and named, obviously, after the wheelchair-bound alt-country singer/songwriter who put his own fascinating spin on americana music. On the strength of this album, Johnston’s a worthy winner and you can see something of Chesnutt’s influence in his easy, conversational style of songwriting, as evidenced by this lyric from ‘Molly Haskell’ –
“There’s cobwebs covering all the heartstrings that I have
I’m cynical enough to know when I should be glad
It’s not so hard to tell you all the feelings I have
It’s not something I should run away from”
This track is probably the strongest cut on the album. All the tracks are very listenable but they have a tendency to blur into each other. There’s not much in the way of dynamics here; the songs all lope along at a similar tempo and, even when they start out with a promising musical attack, like ‘Swimming Pool’, it doesn’t feel sustained.
It’s a frustrating record because you want to like it – the songs are easy to listen to, the music is well played and Johnston has a pleasant voice – but you find yourself drifting off and thinking about other things. There are tracks that sound like they could be real growers – ‘Horse Girl’ and ‘Bet the House’ both have what it takes to work their way inside a listener, if they were that little bit more varied. The problem with all albums is they need something that really grabs a listener and makes them want to find the gems, makes them want to keep coming back for more. That’s really where this album fails; musically it’s just not interesting enough. He’s a good lyricist and the songs all have something about them but, at the same time, there’s something lacking in the melodies and the songs could definitely benefit from more light and shade.
If you like that slightly introverted, inward-looking songwriting that can characterise much of the Athens scene, then Elijah Johnston is certainly going to be one to watch. This album doesn’t quite hit the mark but there’s that cliched offer of great potential.
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