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(Sub Pop 999 As broadcast on WVIA-FM 8/1/2012)
The epitome of an artist whose musical influence greatly exceeded his commercial success is the late English singer-songwriter Nick Drake. Before his death in 1974, Nick Drake's record sales were miniscule, but since then, it seems that each successive generation of pop performers breeds artists who go in for the introspective but often atmospheric, largely acoustic style with a kind of vaguely jazzy musical sophistication, and poetically ambiguous lyrics. Some more contemporary players show their Nick Drake influence a generation out, drawing inspiration from a previous generation of Drake acolytes.
This week, we have another good example of a group that while having vocals very different in sound to Drake's breathy baritone, nevertheless captures, perhaps by osmosis, the essential qualities that have made Drake's music so enduring. The band is called Husky, and their new CD is called Forever So. Husky are from Melbourne, Australia, and are led by guitarist, vocalist and principal composer Husky Gawenda. Gawenda sings in a breathy high tenor that sometimes slips seemlessly into falsetto. His vocals have a quite youthful quality. Gawenda turns out to be quite appealing as a singer, and the band's music is laid back but musically quite interesting with an acoustically dominated sound. The rest of the band is a regular rock quartet with Gawenda on guitar and banjo, Gideon Preiss on keyboards, Evan Tweedie on bass and Luke Collins on drums -- though Collins' role is more understated on the album, dominated as it is by the acoustic folky sound. Though the band does not list Drake specifically as one of their main influences in their press bio, they do site artists from that generation, including Leonard Cohen, Paul Simon and the Beach Boys and one can hear that influence once you start looking for it. But what makes Husky, the band, notable is the way they draw on those influences which so many others have used for inspiration, and they come up with something quite interesting and vaguely contemporary-sounding. But there are times that the music can take on the quality of old-fashioned art rock, with fairly complicated arrangements. Lyrically, the material consists of mainly of oblique love songs that often have a twist that meshes with some of the musical turns.
The CD was released last fall in Australia, but its release in the US was timed to coincide with an American tour. The band also came to Los Angeles for the mixing of their project, after largely recording it themselves.
The CD gets under way with a song called Tidal Wave, a good example of the band's sound and range. The arrangement goes off in a lot of intersting directions while the vocals have a kind deceptive simplistic charm. <<>>
One of the more lyrically intriguing songs is Fake Moustache. It mixes a kind of metaphysical consideration into an apparently complicated love affair. <<>>
A track called History's Door is an interesting mix of retro art rock, alternative rock edge and the introspection of Nick Drake. It shows Husky's strength in creating their own stylistic mix. <<>>
Another highlight of the album is Hunter with its folky acoustic guitar underpinnings, poetically vague lyrics and appealing melodic quality. <<>>
Husky shows some of the influence of one of the groups they cite as an inspiration, the Beach Boys, in parts of the title track Forever So a piece that otherwise has Husky's distinctive musical eclecticism. <<>>
Husky's music shows a lot of creative touches, so it's appropriate that they include an instrumental track. It's a short piece appropriately called Instrumental and it forms a kind of contemplative interlude. <<>>
Another of the more imaginative pieces on the album is Hundred Dollar Suit with lyrics that start to remind one of the quasi-metaphysical declamations of the psychedelic era, with some of the musical influence to boot. <<>>
The group evokes its some of its best melancholy ruminations on a track called Don't Tell Your Mother about an elopement, showing that the group can be really good with a sad melody, and lyrics that tell a story. <<>>
Forever So the American debut album by the Australian band Husky, lead by Husky Gawenda is another in a series of recordings by successive generations of performers to evoke the stylistic spirit of the late Nick Drake. Gawenda hardly sounds like Drake as a vocalist, but the music is embued with the a similar understated, contemplative mood that is backed up by musical compositions that have lots of interesting but subtle details. The band can conjure influences going back to the days of the folkies, the harmonies of the Beach Boys and some of the sonic and lyrical references of the psychedelic days, along with a bits of art-rock influence in the often complex arrangements. They obviously add in some of the more contemporary musical influences, but it's a group that has studied its musical history well, without being obviously imitative. They add to a growing number of recent Australian folk-influenced performers, including the Waifs and Busby Marou who are making worthwhile music that is being released in the US.
Our grade for audio quality is pretty close to an "A." The mix does tend to imitate some of the sonic qualities of the late 1960s, but not to the point of including all the warts and shortcomings caused by the old equipment back then. The dynamic range, the way the recording captures the differences between loud and soft is better than average for a contemporary pop album.
As I was auditioning Husky's new CD and taking notes, as I always do, I found myself writing down the word "interesting" about almost every track. Husky is a group whose music is subtle and thoughtful-sounding, but done with a lot of imagination. Their new CD is definitely a winner.
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