John Thill Heart of Grime

[Shrimper; 2007]

Styles: lo-fi, folk, indie rock
Others: Bright Eyes, Lou Barlow, Robert Pollard, Neutral Milk Hotel

I believe the saying goes that if I had a nickel for every lo-fi singer/songwriter, I’d be a rich man. There is certainly no lack of broken-hearted dudes out there doin’ it for themselves with three chords and a guitar. If only a tenth of them had the songwriting skill or at least a distinctive voice to help them stand out from the crowd. Take Lou Barlow, for instance; not only did the guy pen some of the most sincere love songs ever written, he sang them with a voice so full-bodied and golden that it made up for a lack of production and the fact that you might have to wade through 40-something songs to find the few gems.

John Thill, on the other hand, has a warbly off-key voice that will net him plenty of comparisons to Bright Eyes. I’ve never been a fan of Conor Oberst; you can take that for what it’s worth. Oberst's vocal affectation sounds like an adolescent boy going through puberty to me. Maybe that’s appealing if you’re still in high school. Personally, I find it pathetic.

Heart of Grime is exactly what one familiar with the output of Shrimper might expect. It’s an overstuffed album with a few decent ideas that have been tossed off with utter carelessness, and you wish to hell Thill had spent even a few more minutes working on his craft. There’s an abundance of tape hiss and fuzz on top that makes it slightly reminiscent of Neutral Milk Hotel. Where Jeff Mangum might have used this approach to flesh out already superior songs, John Thill just seems to be covering up inadequacies. I have no problem with tape hiss -- in fact, I welcome it. I just wish there were something worth remembering on here. Heart of Grime just manages to annoy the hell out of you until you press the eject button and wonder how you might have better spent the last hour.

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