It can be hard for singer-songwriters to stand out. With most songs of that genre built upon vocals and guitar, or vocals and piano, there’s not the usual sonic palette found in other musical styles to help an artist create a unique voice. However, singer-songwriter Shlomo Franklin does a wonderful job establishing his own personal tone on Apt. 16, his debut full-length album.
Apt. 16 includes all five tracks from Franklin’s stellar 2018 EP, Don’t Love Anybody, and adds in six new ones. The tracks, produced by C Lanzbom to make it feel like Franklin is singing to you personally, all spotlight Franklin’s charming songwriting and distinctive vocals, with a scratchiness like he just woke up and an honesty like he just took a hit of sodium pentothal. Together, the two characteristics give every song a vulnerability, even when Franklin’s vibe is angry.
This incongruity is used to perfect effect on “Slingshot,” which manages to be both defiant and sweet. He sings over a simple marching beat, practically yelling at a former lover, before surrendering into a sweet chorus, driven by an undercurrent of banjo rolls, before finally leveling a simple, accusatory: “And then you let me go / Like a slingshot.” Franklin’s voice isn’t smooth or polished, which just enhances all of the emotions of the song. It’s pure Americana in Franklin’s capable hands, but you can almost imagine a 17-year-old pop star adding drops and hooks to the song, and making it the deceptively deep hit of the summer.
“Tears Fell in Apt. 16” is slow, with gentle finger-picked guitar and some mysterious echoes of piano. The melody sounds almost like a Jewish prayer, which is interesting given that Franklin grew up in an Orthodox Jewish community. His music doesn’t often seem to delve into that part of his life, either lyrically or musically.
It’s also interesting to see how Franklin’s songwriting has evolved since Don’t Love Anybody. “Miserable Motel” is expansive, featuring layers of guitars, both electric and acoustic, as well as an incredibly powerful vocal performance and equally striking lyrics: “Pictures turn to old photographs / And photographs turn into postcards / Postcards turn into broken love letters / And letters get sent to the place that replace your heart.”
I was a huge fan of Don’t Love Anybody and while the songs from that EP hold up incredibly well, it’s nice to hear the growth in Franklin’s songwriting. Franklin, just 22 years old, often writes about heartbreak, and is very good at it, but it will be nice to see him explore other themes, applying his critical-yet-sensitive eye to other topics. But for now, it’s great to appreciate Franklin where he is, creating his own sound, on his own terms, for our benefit.