Lesser Gonzalez Alvarez Why Is Bear Billowing?

[Carpark; 2008]

Styles: folk pop, indie folk
Others: Elliot Smith, Richard Swift, Devendra Banhart

For the bittersweet time that is the end of the summer season, a sentimental music fan often desires something peaceful and contemplative, something sobering and reflective to nurse themselves down from the aggressive intoxication of boisterous summer music. From blistering outdoor festival rock to hook-filled anthems squarely lodged in heads since at least Memorial Day, the right prescription for end of summer begins and ends with understatement and simplification, with purification. To those ends, Lesser Gonzalez Alvarez has perfectly timed the release of his debut solo outing, Why Is Bear Billowing?.

Alvarez is a musician operating in Baltimore's Wham City collective -- the same as his pal Dan Deacon -- in which he has also served in several other bands and artistic enterprises. While his interests range from electro-pop to visual arts, here the focus is on the man himself: his voice, his guitar, his songs. While folk is probably the most appropriate label to apply here, there's nothing of the adorned nature that we indie folk fans have come to expect in recent years. In fact, if Alvarez does have an eccentricity, it might be his inoffensive and unassuming demeanor. His songs don't immediately come across as impassioned pleas or possessed screeds, yet if willing to listen to his words, especially on songs like "Pinecone Eyes" and "Love for Longer," one will quickly find evidence of a sensitive, meaningful, and slyly fantastical worldview indicative of the high-caliber songwriting at which Alvarez stealthily operates.

Despite the quality songwriting, the even-keeled tone of the whole affair may cause Why Is Bear Billowing? to float under many otherwise-interested radars. Lacking are the depths of despair one could have with an Elliott Smith tune, nor is there the quirky outre of a Devendra Banhart. Instead, we have a young man whose versatility and creative restlessness have been sublimated into something more lean and clean and outwardly modest. But for those of you who are feeling the hangover of the summer sugar rush, this album will function as a palate cleanser before the richness of the fall harvest.

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