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Flashlight Seasons (Warp)

His first name's Nick, he's British, and he softly sings sad songs accompanied by gorgeously picked guitars. But that's about all that Nick Drake and Nick Talbot (a.k.a. Gravenhurst) have in common.

Drake, despite the jazzy inclinations of Bryter Later, steeped his songs in an old-world pastoral vibe, making the tunes seem as if a traveling minstrel wrote them. You get the feeling that the melancholy surrounding those songs is the same that your nameless ancestors must've felt, some sort of ingrained turmoil that passes through human blood from generation to generation. Talbot's sadness, on the other hand, seems acutely present-day, as does his technique. Sure there's plenty of folky acoustic plucking, but it's clear that Talbot knows his Smiths records inside and out. Talbot also employs electric guitars to lend atmosphere and emphasis -- a drone here, a slide there. Vocally the Smiths have left yet another mark, but Talbot also uses multi-tracking to create harmonies that often recall Simon & Garfunkel. The lyrics are generally thoughtful, if at times explicitly morose. Consider: "You'll find yourself painting your windows so you don't have to look at what's hammering outside your door" or "You're only a stone's throw from all the violence you buried years ago."

Drake was rarely so concrete, but Talbot hands listeners the devil with every detail. Such an aesthetic sensibility is perhaps a product of our overloaded information age, but that doesn't make Gravenhurst any less effective -- Talbot's songs paint beautiful portraits of despair. And if you love to stare at such sadness, Flashlight Seasons comes highly recommended.

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