As the frontman of quite possibly the biggest buzz-bands of the 00’s, Alec Ounsworth has seen his career as a songwriter evolve and devolve, from a dorm room in Connecticut College, where he first shared his eclectic brand of songwriting with future Clap Your Hands Say Yeah! bandmate Lee Sargent to the self-distributed release of one of the bounciest and generally catchiest records of 2004. Then, when the weight of their impending sophomore release became too much to bear, CYHSY released Some Loud Thunder, generally perceived to be a bit of a let down. While there is no doubt that Ounsworth, being the principal songwriter of CYHSY can write some impressive tunes, being associated with a band that in the space of a few years went from everyone’s favourite act to everyone’s favourite letdown will certainly have an effect on your songwriting.
All this backstory is what makes Mo Beauty, Ounsworth’s debut solo effort such an important release. There’s a chance on the record for the Philadelphia native to let the musically rich city of New Orleans, where Mo Beauty was recorded, influence his songwriting abilities and take them to the next level. For the most part, that’s exactly what happens on Mo Beauty.
Featuring the impossible to contain, buzzing vibe to be expected from Ounsworth, Mo Beauty is an upbeat listen across the board, although jittery at times. Although “Bones In The Grave” features Ounsworth’s typically unwitting warble with a dreamy, soaring chorus, he loses steam throughout majority of the track, letting his backing band wreak havoc with a mess of instruments crashing in confusion at every opportunity. Even if some find Ounsworth’s wandering sound a little much, Mo Beauty is a brave move.
Ounsworth has said that Mo Beauty is mostly old tunes that he went down to New Orleans to record; letting the surrounding environment influence the tunes in such a ramshackle way may not be the most commercially viable of options, but it shows some muscle as an artist. Mo Beauty sparkles in its spooky rhetoric; none of the tracks are particularly dark or brooding, but Ounsworth proliferates a serious sense of mystery on the record. Hell, even “What Fun,” one of the poppier tracks on Mo Beauty imagines something of lost vagabond wandering the open road.
Much like many solo records before him were treated, there are going to be fans who identify with Ounsworth’s eclecticism, including the dirty cabaret feel of “Idiots In The Rain” and the sketchy R&B beat of “South Philadelphia (Drug Days)” more than the slick, repetitive feel of previous CYHSY releases. Mo Beauty speaks for itself in the way it maintains a natural, healthy flow. The songs bend and twist without responsibility, as if they’re evolving in an undetermined manner with every listen. And judging by the unpredictability of Ounsworth’s career as a songwriter, you’ve got to figure that’s exactly the way he wanted it.
By Joshua Kloke[Rating: 2.5/5]