By Mike Appelstein
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By Mike Appelstein
As the leader of LaPush, Thom Donovan made smart, catchy modern rock that refracted his love of Britpop through the lens of singer-songwriter-esque moody revelations. That combination ensured that LaPush's songs fit in well on MTV's serialized cinéma vérité such as The Hills and 16 and Pregnant; both shows have featured his music. Donovan's first solo album does more than soundtrack teen angst, however. Like LaPush's final EP, Cast a Light considers mature themes, set to the chimes of twelve-string guitars, tidy hooks and immediate melodies.
Donovan's soft touch is evident on his tender take on the 1961 Paris Sisters chestnut, "I Love How You Love Me," which was Phil Spector's first big hit as a producer. But rather than erect a wall of sound, he keeps it hushed, thanks to gingerly picked guitar and some (regrettable) canned strings. The acoustic ballad "Knock On My Door" is similarly gentle but much more focused on mortality. The rattling slide guitar pushes the track toward the Delta, but Donovan wisely treats the subject like a Zeppelin slow-burner instead of a Robert Johnson rip-off (however slight that difference may be).
Still, Donovan is at his best when he has a swagger in his step. The garage-rock raver "Always Mine" struts along with attitude; as a result, neither its lyrics nor its music are particularly nuanced. "Who Do You Think You're Foolin'" is a bit more adventurous; the fuzz bass, ragged guitar tones and space-age noise bursts call to mind some of U2's ballsier moments from the first half of the '90s. It's not dirty enough to be threatening, but the song exhibits a certain bare-chested machismo. The shifting between poles — velveteen balladeer and well-manicured rock singer — makes the album a bit jarring in some places, but overall Donovan's breathy, well-pitched vocals help the songs hang together.
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