On the way home from buying albums like Rachel Goswell's solo debut, anticipation is at perhaps its highest -- and most fun. After stumbling over the name on the jacket at the record store and remembering that she has taken part in some great moments in songwriting over the past 15 years, I could only imagine what this thing was going to sound like. Goswell has been under the wing of Slowdive and Mojave 3 lead space cadet Neil Halstead for both songwriting and performing duties, and now, I thought, she'll find her way out. At last a creative outlet that is her own, where Rachel can give us her take on music from the oppressed shackles of conforming to a vision that was not her own!
As it turns out, though, Goswell didn't see herself very imprisoned. Waves Are Universal isn't too far a cry from the plaintive, layered music she's been playing for the past 15 years, but this shouldn't come as a surprise. Anyone who plays one style for that long probably lets it grow on them a long time ago. On the same token, no one is naïve enough to think that her own tastes haven't evolved over that stretch of years, and this album speaks to that, as the direct candor and one-off melodies point more to a vision of someone interpreting her surroundings than a ceremonial uncorking of mountains of long-bottled ideas and emotions. What results are some very shaky moments.
To be sure, the songs are delicate and well-thought out. Almost every track is littered with layered strings, piano, banjo, fingered acoustic guitar, and various field recordings (chirping birds seem to be a popular choice). Tracks like "Warm Summer Sun" and "Coastline" make excellent use of the down-home resources, hinting at flourishes throughout while leading to beautiful closes.
Despite the pristine texture, though, many of the melodies find themselves veering into the frankly repulsive world of adult contemporary. There are stronger words for how rightly avoided this genre is, but the Dawson's Creek images that especially "Beautiful Feeling" conjures are enough. Sickeningly "heart-warming," the stale cello part is paired with some equally sappy imagery that culminates with "Wish everyday could be like this/ so lazy and free." Music is littered with lovable cheesy lyrics, but combined with the post-Lillith Fair garble, she seems to be trying too hard.
On balance, though, the record offers some bright moments, mostly because of Goswell's soft coo and obvious (maybe inherent) sense of arrangement. Making definitive recommendations is surely a dead-end art, but for those on a budget, there's a new Mojave 3 record coming out soon that will also feature Ms. Goswell.
1. Warm Summer Sun
2. Gather Me Up
3. No Substitute
8. Shoulder the Blame
9. Save Yourself
10. Thru the Dawn
11. Beautiful Feeling
12. Sleepless & Tooting