The haunted landscape of the Deep South is the world that, in a major part, gave birth to Jordan Burchel’s need for self-expression. Life south of the Mason/Dixon line has spawned some of the most vibrant artistic explorations in American history and continues to be fertile ground for inspiring new artists. Burchel’s album Vowel Sounds is a ten song collection that does it best to respond to modern life in an intensely personal fashion and shows the vision to remain accessible to a wider audience without ever sacrificing any signature touch. This isn’t an inherently easy task. Instead, it’s only artists and writers with a clear eyed creative vision who can handle the required balance needed to speak from their hearts while still crafting a solid and thoroughgoing entertainment experience.
The cascading guitar line opening the first song “Paper Face” sets an immediate tone from the outset and hits an uniquely melodic at the end of each line. Burchel sets up the verses in such a way that the arrangement seamlessly moves from each instrumental break into the following lyric passage. Burchel has a strong, credible voice for guitar propelled material that, nevertheless, has enough pop appeal to artfully round off the song’s grittiest corners. “Dust” opens with a heady dose of atmospherics interspersed with inventively deployed synth lines and ornamental percussion. It segues in a very unlikely way. The song begins in earnest with brisk drumming, a jangling acoustic guitar pumping away underneath, and occasional synthesizer fills, but the crowning musical touch is electric guitar never goes in for clichéd heroics but, instead, adopts a distinctly compositional approach to improving the songs. The lyrics are personal while still tilling familiar ground in an imaginative way that brings his audience fully into the song.
“When They Call You Blue” introduces a guest star, Sam Moss, to the mix. It also varies the album’s mood in an ear-catching way thanks to its enormous, practically cinematic, guitar work and the space that Burchel’s writing utilizes so well in the arrangement. It’s easy to trot out customary clichés when describing this song – it’s evocative, dream-like, and slowly developing. Such clichés scarcely do service to its fearlessness. Much of “Blesh” is built around amping up the tension for its crescendos and its gradually ascending dramatic flow isn’t ever rushed or heavy handed. There’s a definite pop sensibility elevating this song, but this is unlike many other performers who boast such strengths. Instead, the instruments sympathetically weave together with balance, a vivid organic sound, and attention to detail.
“Coffee Breath” has a gently loping musical attack hinging, as so many songs do successfully on Vowel Sounds, on eloquent lead guitar lines that directly speak to the listener. Burchel’s vocals continue to be another song-in, song-out highlight of the release. His lyrical content is a cut above typical indie outings and they are made all the more impactful thanks to evocative yet understated phrasing. The drumming lays down a relaxed, but enjoyable groove to open “Unfeeling Everything” and the guitar, once again, makes its presence felt from its first introduction thanks to its great feel and precise phrasing. The production, likewise, vividly captures all of the album’s guitar work and does a particularly good job on the parts when it has to hang back and assume a softer, more beguiling tone. The final song on Vowel Sounds, “Kulterator”, takes on a relaxed feel from the beginning, but as the song continues, dynamics come more and more into play. Burchel’s talent for writing highly dramatic numbers without ever overwhelming the listener is a skill you cannot teach. The ten songs on Vowel Sounds constitute one of the year’s most impressive releases and the wide variety of moods and sounds he conjures will entrance many.
9 out of 10 stars