Saturday, June 17, 2017

New to Me No. 1: Esme Patterson, We Were Wild

I dunno. I like it. Challenges the songs...
[Editor’s Note: This starts yet another series within this project, one that will feature newer music by newer artists; that’s as opposed to talking about all the stuff I already have, like I do in the One Last Pick Through the Bins series. My streaming service of choice, as well as other outlets like Seattle’s KEXP, NPR’s music show, and even Song Exploder, introduce me to at least 30 new songs each week. It’s just that song, though, which always leaves me wondering what the rest of the album sounds like – especially when the song really hooks me. And that’s what I’ll do with these posts/this series: listen to that whole album and let people know what I think of it.]

[Editor’s Follow-up Note: This was actually the original intent for this entire site – just talking about what I was listening to. But I wanted to give people a little context for the kind of music I listen to and like…so I started the Bins project. I guess I wanted people to know where I was coming from when I turned to this stuff. True Story.]

[Editor’s Last Note, Swear to God: This will be the only time I do a preamble for these things. Promise. OK, here goes…]

One of the first songs that Spotify’s Discover Weekly delivered to me that I later fixated on was Esme Patterson’s “Feel Right.” With a blistering tempo, tightly-packed plucked guitar playing over frantic rhythm guitar, and her belting out anthemic theories on how the heart gets to know what it wants, it’s an easy track to love. Having grown in the post-MTV, deciding to see what she looked like, and what she’s all about came pretty naturally; the inter-relation between “Feel Right’s” lightly-provocative lyrics and the lightly-provocative cover art for Patterson’s 2016 release, We Were Wild, only goosed my curiosity a little more.

To start with the performance side, Patterson tracks the indie tradition of leaning more into earnestness than star power. She doesn't present as a comfortable performer, really, but instead possesses with hints of stiffness borne of not quite knowing what to do with herself on stage, or even in front of a video camera. The official video for “Feel Right” (link up there...why do I do that?) is nothing but a series of camera shots that zoom in on Patterson throwing around her head full of curls against a series of different (that's LA, right?) settings. A couple “fourth-wall breaks aside, she doesn’t play to the camera that much, and she only directly addresses it once. The same soft bemusement about what to do with herself comes across even more in a live performance of the song I found.

I drifted to videos of a few other songs, as well as a studio performance at (what I think is) a radio station (of some kind), and she looks more at ease in that setting; the official video for another – “What Do You Call a Woman?” (which isn’t on We Were Wild) – reveals that she knows how to work a camera well enough, and that makes me wonder if she just wears certain songs and settings better.

That makes for a neat segue to the rest of We Were Wild. “Feel Right,” a get-up-and-boogie track, launches the album, but it’s a clear outlier for the album. “Find It” plays closer to the middle, at least tempo-wise, but just about all the songs on the album speak on similar themes and from a particular perspective. Patterson speaks to the world at large at least as often as she sings to some particular person, but she’s usually after the same thing – the mix of love and connection – but she addresses both as if she’s holding her heart in her hand as she warbles away.

When I tried to nail down a musical sensibility for We Were Wild, the phrase that keeps coming to mind is “country-inflected,” but there’s enough rock sensibility even on those “inflected” tracks that I can’t bring myself to file her under my original (probably misguided) impulse, e.g., honky-tonk. Imperfect genre assignment notwithstanding (look, working on it; also, her fault), she’s hardly all over the place in musical terms. “Feel Right” pushes her to something close to rockabilly, but, again, that track is an outlier. The country-inflection – what I count as the strongest identifiable element on We Were Wild - comes through most on tracks like “Yours and Mine,” “Wantin’ Ain’t Gettin,’” and mmmaayybbeeeeFrancine.” Then again, that could me stretching toward my arbitrary-esque genre assignment.

After several listens, I’d put tracks like “Moth Song,” “Come See Me,” and “Alone” (also, live) as the stylistic centers of We Were Wild. If you figure out what to call those (acoustic alternative pop?), power to you. I like this album, more than I love it – only “Guadalupe” leaves me anything like cold – but it’s not bland in approach, theme, or music. It’s small venue music, certainly, nothing that would translate to a big room - personal as the songs are, makes me think they’d suffocate in that setting – and that probably gets at why I count “Wantin’ Ain’t Gettin’” as one of my favorites: the high, mournful steel-guitar (I’m guessing) that hangs over the tune like waves of heartbreak, the vocal bridge that finally feels like biting back against the betrayal, etc.

All in all, even if it’s not for everyone (as in, I can see this boring folks), We Were Wild makes for a decently accessible album. It’d probably play great for someone with the right sensibility; and, in the right mood, it could be just the thing.

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