09/12/2001 | Delusions of Adequacy | www.adequacy.net | Album Review
File Under: Moving singer/songwriter
RIYL: Bright Eyes, Destroyer, Ben Folds, Billy Joel, Elton John
Oddly enough, Son, Ambulance's music draws closer comparisons to such 70's piano-playing songwriters as Billy Joel and Elton John than Ambulance headman Joe Knapp's indie rock contemporaries. That's not to say that he's resurrecting those elder musician's work, but rather that he's adopting their styles and mixing it with his own more modern sensibilities. It makes Euphemystic an album that can be enjoyed by quite a few groups and puts it between a myriad of genres.
Another reasonable comparison would be to Bright Eyes, the band that Son, Ambulance released with a split EP and the project that Joe Knapp played with. Like Bright Eyes' singer/songwriter Conor Oberst, Knapp's vocals are not precisely smooth but carry a deep sense of emotion and sincerity. Also like Oberst, Knapp puts the song before the instruments, crafting each track deliberately and pouring out his soul. Piano accompanies acoustic and electric guitar, mixing 70's style songwriting with 80's and 90's guitar rock and modern, quieter indie rock for a powerful combination.
"An Instant Death" has the kind of dark undertones found in a Bright Eyes track but with some cheerful, up-beat piano, and it contrasts nicely with the more rocking "An Instant Birth," which is probably one of the best songs on the album. Some sort of new-wavey keyboards mix with an up-tempo rocking track and also add a similar retro feel to the soft and pretty "The Anonymous."
For the most part, the songs on Euphemystic are cheerful and up-beat, but occasionally Knapp creates a more moody sound like the folky "A Book Laid on It's Binding." He even mixes in a bossa nova style feel to "Maria in Motion," which also has a Spanish flare and even features Knapp singing in Spanish during some of the verses. The bouncy and poppy "I Promise You'll Never Grow Old" reminds you why the best Elton John and Elvis Costello songs just never grow old. The last two songs are almost entirely Knapp and piano. "A New Dress for Maybell" is a quiet, contemplative, story type song, and it leads nicely into the closer, "Violet," which is a soft and plaintive number.
Knapp has taken a page from his friend Conor Oberst and crafted an album of delightful and powerful pop songs. But his take, with a retro piano-lead approach, gives the Son, Ambulance songs more of a cheerful and fun sound while still firmly ensconced in the indie rock genre. Wonderful stuff and the first of probably many fantastic full-length albums from Knapp and co.