When I say that I am often not all that up to date on this site I assume you generally take this to mean that I might be a couple of weeks or maybe a month or two reviewing a new release. What I am guessing you do not assume is that I might cover a new release over a year and a fucking half after being sent it. That, you might think, would be pretty fucking annoying for the artist in question, and given I work with musicians every day I should know better.
And, honestly, you’d be right. And I’m sorry.
Anyhow, given I got here eventually, what release am I on about? Do you remember Adam Balbo? I’ve written about him a lot on Song, by Toad, albeit it not for a while; a fantastic singer-songwriter who falls in that sort of territory between Eef Barzelay and Bob Dylan. Excuse the lofty comparisons – I’m not declaring Balbo to be a woefully neglected godlike genius (although woefully neglected isn’t too far wrong) just comparing the sound and the tone of the lyrics – somewhere between acerbic, bitter, introspective and occasionally tender, in a way which can quite shock you after what has gone before.
The Pool Whales, as he described it when he emailed to me, is a little more of a twee album made on tape by a three-piece bedroom band and then digitised for the benefit of the internets. Although in the current climate a cassette release wouldn’t be too much to ask would it? I would buy one!
This is a band release, however, and the songwriting is split between Balbo and Dan Weiss, a longtime friend and collaborator. They don’t always sing their own songs however, but the lyrics are of sufficiently similar character that the album still has a sense of unity and is not obviously the work of different writers. What Was Her Name is one of those tunes which is absolutely characteristically Balbo however, and possibly the standout track on the album for me, although it’s a close call.
After the cheerful nature of the first three tunes, the loveliness of this really hits you hard. Balbo, like all the best people writing this kind of personal stuff, has a genuine talent for picking out a key line or observation which makes a standard reminiscence on a brief flickering of possibilities over a drink that is never followed up. In a few lines he manages to give a really tangible sense of sadness, and of why she in particular is the one he think back to occasionally. It may sound trivial, but for my money that is a rare writing skill, and one of the reasons I’ve enjoyed his songwriting for so long.
The most obvious contrast on this album is probably the fantastic Tooth Dream. This tune is one of Weiss’s and a gloriously chirpy meditation on later-early-life-paralysis (or whatever you’re supposed to call it). It may be a song about knowing there is a nettle to be grasped and a plan to be made, but still managing to avoid doing it for a little while yet, but there is a breezily upbeat pace to the song which suggests anything but inertia.
And with these two as bookends, the rest of the album sits comfortably inbetween. It’s chirpy and playful at times, but mixed with moments of sadness and reflection, and the two strands are blended really nicely together in a way which gives it a really nice sense of variation, and the feeling that however far you delve into one feeling, the other is never far away.
Musically it may not knock your socks off, I suppose. It’s very plain vanilla in a sense – just some people playing with minimal drums and singing songs based around the acoustic guitar and embellished with a bits and pieces here and there. But the melodies are hummable and the it’s just so unpretentiously and deftly executed that in this case the simple approach works perfectly. The only criticism I would have is that maybe this approach downplays the quality of the material a little too much, but then why should you have to tart things up when you have a bunch of great songs and people to play them with. That’s all we’re really supposed to need, isn’t it?
Download the whole thing on Bandcamp.