When Justin Vernon is jolted awake in his cabin after a particularly hot wet dream-one so hot he requires a bath in ice cubes like Tim Robbins in Jacob’s Ladder-I can only assume that he was fantasizing about making music as precious as Patrick Watson. While I’ve always been baffled by the worlds undying devotion to Bon Iver as the greatest music ever delivered unto man by the heavens, I can actually see the beauty in Adventures In Your Own Back Yard. That doesn’t necessarily mean I like it, but at least I understand why some may.
Patrick Watson is the name of the band out of Montreal which features Patrick Watson as its lead singer, Robbie Kuster on percussion, Mishka Stein on bass, and guitar by Simon Angell. Together they play a dreamy ambient pop that slowly digs its way into your ears and swims around until it’s left its mark in every nook and cranny of your brain. Watson has that falsetto vocal ability that conjures up comparisons to The Antlers Pete Silberman. In my ears that comparison is apt, to a point. Silberman is a much better lyricist than Watson. However, I think the bands are equal as far as creating a soundscape for the words to exist in.
My favorite thing about Patrick Watson is their ability to blend genres and make something I’ve never heard before. They mix baroque piano parts with electric bass to build cinematic drama worthy of Angelo Badalementi. Most of the album is spent with hushed tones, allowing the vocals free reign to do what they like out in front, but the skill of the players behind the voice never come into question. When it comes time for the band to really step up and speak for themselves, they don’t shy away from the spotlight.
The best song off the album, in my opinion, is “Step Out For A While.” While the first two tracks spend a few minutes setting the mood, the third track grabs you by the scruff of the neck and doesn’t let go. It’s the first real spark of fun that Adventures In Your Own Back Yard gives off. It kicks off with a low guitar and Watson humming, but then it twists into a carnival-like odyssey similar to The Decemberists The Tain. It’s one of the most interesting songs I’ve heard this year, and I’ve listened to it a ton. It’s almost like Zac Condon and Jon Brion just went into a studio and said “Let’s just throw everything at this track.”
The following song, “Quiet Crowd,” is the best lyrically. “Would you rather be a part of the crowd or just a single sound, waiting to be heard?” It’s all about speaking up for yourself and not letting others do it for you. This is a very pretty song. It deals mainly with pianos and vocals for the majority, but then pumps in some strings and woodwinds during the second half to really fill in the melody. These two songs back to back really make the record for me. Without them I probably wouldn’t have liked Adventures In Your Own Back Yard.
I think my problem is that everything seems very analyzed. It’s lacking in raw energy and feeling. Without the two songs I mentioned, I feel like the whole thing would have run together without even noticing when one song ends and another begins. That said, those two songs are better than most things I’ve heard this year, so this record is pretty much worth picking up just for them. Maybe if you love those tracks you’ll enjoy the others as well. The whole thing is streaming over on NPR, so go check it out before they pull it and decide for yourself.