Review: John Amadon – Seven Stars (Hirngespinst, 2011)
Portland singer-songwriter John Amadon is something of a studio rat, holing up to write and record original compositions until they shine with craft. It’s not the airless sound of modern recording, but the earthy, sharp-in-just-the-right-places acoustics you’d associate with Big Star’s first two records at Ardent. The guitars have a pluckiness that brings listeners into the studio – like the acoustic picking that opens Pink Floyd’s “Wish You Were Here.” The mood harkens back to the late ‘60s and early ‘70s era of power pop; you can hear strains of Badfinger’s melancholy, Alex Chilton’s falsetto (check out the first few notes of “All Patched Up”), CS&N’s harmonies, and the whole of Elliot Smith’s folk-pop.
Amadon has explained that several of the album’s songs are rooted in a one-sided obsession. Most directly he’s written “Let’s Walk Without Talking” about the object of his unfounded desire, and “Bitter Prayers” couches a not-wholly-convincing apology in a wistful melody and vocal whose protestations might be a stalker’s elocution to his prey. The songs are inner monologues itching to be spoken, uncertain self-appraisals whose outside awareness is askew. The album’s lone instrumental is appropriately entitled “Xanax,” as its mood perches between anxiety and medicated calm.
The album plays as an intense day-dream, filled with wanderings sparked by the barest of incidents. Amadon imagines a relationship with someone he’s never actually met, investing her with details that he seems to realize are false. Even without knowing the album’s premise, the affection in these songs is too claustrophobic to read as standard love song fare, and when Amadon sings “I won’t make light of the insight, you’re beyond knowing,” it’s more of an admission than an existential observation. This is a finely produced album whose sound would stop you in your tracks at a hi-fi shop; the lyrics will subsequently transfix you with their haunted imagination.