SOMETIMES A CLEANLY recorded and tastefully performed album can be more frustration-inducing than a bad one. In the current climate this can often be blamed on obvious glaring omissions from or inclusions in an otherwise professional offering.
Under the name of Night Marcher, Salt Lake City, Utah, rock/soul exponent, Rob Reinfurt has delivered a tightly compact, clean, and stylistically concise record in Modern Maze. Self-produced and beautifully engineered by David Peters, the record carves its careful arrangements neatly around Reinfurt’s characterful cross-over vocal style which brings to mind those of Jeff Buckley and Macy Gray. Contributing much instrumentation himself, Reinfurt is accompanied by a musically accomplished rhythm section who are clearly aware of what not to play and when not to play. Topping it off are the carefully placed piano and keys overdubs of Peter Adams and Aimee Nolte, who herself is one of a quartet of backing vocalists that really set these songs alight when singing at full lung capacity.
So why the opening paragraph? Here’s the thing. It’s an event I’ll flippantly call ‘The Tortoise and the Hare Play Chess’. In other words, the race gets off to a fine start, they both take a rest and neither one wins. But they’ve trained hard and really splashed out on running gear, so what’s the deal? Let me explain. I’ll use this album as an example, but I could say this virtually anywhere these days. You take all of the above into account and you have an album that stops short of the finish line due to glaring omissions. In this case the main culprit is the absence of guitar solos, which many of these songs are crying out for. Towards the end of opener ‘Holy Ghost’ a brief lead guitar outing got me excited at the promise of things to come which never came. ‘People Are Screaming Jesus’ goes into a long drawn-out crawl in the middle with little decoration of any consequence to justify its presence. Would it not have been preferable for some soaring lead work to populate this open and expansive terrain?
Regardless, my earlier praise of sonics and performance stands. But Modern Maze reaches its plateau early and remains there, dangling, riding itself out with little dynamic variation. This is all too common with albums today – The constant restatement of a particular vibe, mood or formula across the vast scope of an art form that used to be an exercise in taking a listener on a joyride that encapsulated anything from relaxed cruising to the endurance of white-knuckled high-speed curves. Instead we have a generation of music that to a massive extent plays it oh so safe. There’s no question of talent, but alone it’s not enough.
I put it down to the dangers of producing yourself. I have no knowledge of the power of veto between artist and engineer in this case, but certain other aspects grate. Chief among them, the unnecessary ending extension on ‘Saint’ and the first-draft-like opening line of ‘Chin Up’ which carelessly declares ‘I read the news today but I didn’t say “Oh boy”’. These are the kinds of things that any objective producer worth their salt should jump on with a view to improvement. When the project is otherwise of a high standard, why stop there? Left to fester, the gaping knee wounds these ignored hurdles create can cause an onlooker to lose confidence in the participant’s next race. PETER KEARNS
Music = 3/5