A lot can be said for writing music whilst travelling. Inspiration can be wide and vary in appearance thanks to ever-changing landscapes and company. Influences become spontaneous and organic, culminating in raw, honest and personal reflections of past experiences. 2019 sees this very process being employed by New York singer-songwriter Adir L.C. but further to this, not only were the tracks on his latest record Basket Star written on the road, they were also arranged and recorded whilst hopping from one makeshift studio to the next. The result of this eclecticism is a record as diverse as the process by which it was formulated – part jazz, folk, soul, brass fanfare, chamber-pop and acoustic-pop. From start to finish it is a heady cocktail of styles and influences that is polarising in both its ambition and its borrowing.
The record spans 43 minutes across twelve tracks and has a mix of excellent and plain songwriting. The production of the record feels unpolished, capturing the ‘on the road’ and ‘home-style’ atmosphere that is either enduring or lazy depending on your perception. For Emma, Forever Ago (2008), Bon Iver’s breakout album comes to mind whilst listening to Basket Star, mainly due to the similarly loose nature of both records. Adir L.C. has constructed a ‘wholesome family’ around the creation of the record with various group vocals throughout the album, the use of various homes to conduct recording sessions and a steady stream of musicians in support that bring a sense of community to the record.
The album opens with the sultry-ballad “Best Version (Of My Short Life)”. This song works despite the dragging feeling that threatens to undermine the cleverly written melody. The song is cut into pieces with spacious and borderline painstaking pauses. The fumbling, bleating brass and weary tempo can be off-putting at first, but after a few listens the discomfort does recede. Setting the expectation for the rest of the album, the sound is raw, unrefined and very familiar. The piano-driven progression draws parallels with LCD Soundsystem’s “New York, I Love You but You’re Bringing Me Down”. This trend of borrowing is an unfortunately running theme from start to finish.
The first single “Big Bad” is one of the standouts off the record, with its constantly moving melody and slow building nature. Much like most of the album, the sound is not unique, pulling similarities from various sources to create an amalgamation of sounds. “Big Bad” sounds very similar to “Tangible Heart” (2015) by Sam Cromack’s (Ball Park Music) side-project My Own Pet Radio. This is not indicative of the quality of Basket Star; the songwriting is efficient and astute; however, it does make it instantly familiar for better or worse. The injection of brass towards the end lifts the energy and furthers the developing character of this piece.
Second single “Reacting” demonstrates a glimpse of emotion from Adir L.C., rather than just glib indifference. The change in vocal tone between verse and chorus paints the expressive journey of this song and is symbolic of the reactive theme, seemingly snapping in his singing technique. Flashes of Beirut and Neutral Milk Hotel-style brass are a constant undercurrent throughout the entire record and are used to an effective degree that compliments the guitar and vocal lines, especially on “Reacting” as they grow with the piece.
There have been countless songs about the city of New York and much like the aforementioned LCD Soundsystem track, “New York” is a spiteful love-hate reflection on the artist’s hometown. “I hate you, I love you, oh city of mine!” exclaims Adir L.C. as if the city is a jaded ex-lover. Passion is present in spades and fuels the intensity throughout as the rhythm sways back and forth in a gentle rocking. In complete juxtaposition to this song is the title track “Basket Star”, a jaunty, laid-back number that saunters along with indie folk-rock swagger. Group vocals, jangly home-style instruments and a tapering off that feels a bit lacklustre and lazy result in a simple piece of music that seems like it is trying a bit too hard to be cool and relaxed, a city boy attempt at Donavan Frankenreiter and Jack Johnson without the beach.
“Foggy Hill” is one of the better songs on the record, unfortunately, it sounds very similar to “Summer Guest” (2014) by Icelandic atmospheric-folk singer-songwriter Ásgier. With finger-picked acoustic guitar and a catchy melody, regrettably it barely lasts a minute. “Getting Home” smacks of Justin Vernon’s Volcano Choir or Bon Iver. Slowly developing with atmospheric reverb, warbling brass, quite a lovely melody but mostly borrowed ideas, especially the outro which almost sounds identical to the nonsense in “21 M♢♢N WATER” from 22, A Million (2016).
Basket Star finds some strength in the confident and robust “Go Hard”. With military drums, that characteristic brass fanfare and a strong group vocal melody, this track marches along nicely. The theme of the song is supportive and uplifting, which is a contrast to some of the more melancholic philosophies on earlier tracks. “Same Way” is similar in its optimistic message, but heavily contrasted in its sound. Stripping back to gentle acoustic guitar and vocals, the simplicity of the piece is the key to its charm.
The length of this album might be more than some can handle – the second half can become tedious in parts, but track ten “Pink Cloud” is easily one of the more impressive songs on the record. Pulling and pushing the listener forward, it’s far more engaging than the last few tracks. Each instrument has found a voice within the intricacy of the piece, playing an interlocking part that compliments everything else around it. It resembles something Bright Eyes would write, but it’s unique enough to stand on its own.
“Another Potion” has dynamic variety, a collection of instrumentation and when coupled with a galloping ‘cowboy-western’ rhythm and melody they push this track forward. It has more diversity than some songs, but the tune is familiar if not recognisable. The last track “A Little Love (Couldn’t Hurt)” is a cover of Israeli singer-songwriter Alon Eder’s “Ktsat Ahava Lo Tazik” translated into English by Adir L.C.. The use of a lone scratchy electric guitar, bass, organ and vocals allows for the message and the raw honesty of the song to take centre stage. It’s clearly a meaningful song to Adir L.C. who has spent significant time in Israel where he has gained popularity since his first record Oceanside Cities (2015). Unfortunately, some of the beauty of the original is lost in translation.
Overall, Adir L.C. has produced an album that is the very essence of the journey he has gone through. The songwriting is concise and efficient; however, the delivery and production is clumsy at times. It can be challenging to find a unique voice in the modern world of music, which is why it is so important to ensure that as an artist, you are striving to bring something new and innovative to your sound, unfortunately, Adir L.C. hasn’t distanced himself enough from the sounds of others.