Most of my listening routine over the past few years has consisted of music that either eschews vocals completely (insert any number of instrumental post-rock bands, ambient musicians, and experimental ensembles) or music that treats the vocals as merely another instrument, burying them beneath layers of sound (insert any shoegazer/dreampop outfit). But that doesn’t mean I don’t know a good set of pipes when I hear them, and in the case of Poor Rich Ones, they’ve got an outstanding set, courtesy of William Hut.
Sounding like his vocal chords are carved from the finest crystal, Hut’s voice soars, croons, pleads, and moans, referencing Jeff Buckley and Coldplay’s Chris Martin as often as Jeremy Enigk. Unfortunately, the band’s music doesn’t always live up to the promise in Hut’s voice, though thankfully it succeeds 90% of the time.
Actually, part of my mixed opinions might be due to the opening track. Joe Maynard’s Favourites kicks off with the absolutely stellar “Milwaukee,” a driving track of solid rhythms, orchestral flourishes, and Hut’s voice at it’s most emotional. In fact, it’s so solid that it’s probably the kind of opener that bands love and hate — love because it immediately hooks the listener and displays the band at the height of its powers, but hate because the remainder of the disc can’t quite get out from under its shadow.
Unfortunately, for much of Joe Maynard’s Favourites, the latter is true. None of the songs measure up to the lead-off track, but are still quite solid in their own right. “Old Age And Failures” is — perhaps not too surprisingly — one of the disc’s more somber tracks, and Hut’s voice is at its most delicate, keening against ghostly organs and heart-tugging strings. “Kindly Country” takes a darker, more brooding route than the rest of the CD, with cavernous rhythms and sparser textures à la Heather Duby’s Post To Wire, and it works wonderfully because of it. Indeed, I wish more of the disc was in a similar vein, as it nearly rivals “Milwaukee” in capturing my interest. And “My Book Of Friends” is a poignant tale of aging and complacency, closing out with one of the disc’s more poignant guitar movements.
But there are times when the disc flounders. “Blind” is one of the more emotional and moving songs, a stripped down acoustic ballad. However, to these ears, the melody vaguely resembles Pachelbel’s “Canon In D,” which makes the song feel a bit overwrought. As lovely and convicting as Hut’s voice happens to be, there are times when it almost gets away from him. Towards the end, one feels the urge to skip a track or two ahead, if only to get back around to the disc’s start so they can hear “Milwaukee” again.
I suspect some of this lack of consistency is due to the fact that Joe Maynard’s Favourites is a compilation rather than an album proper, pulling together a number of songs from previous EPs, albums, and other releases. Towards the end though, a track or two probably could’ve been left off without hurting the overall listening experience. That being said, it’s still a very solid disc if you’re looking for earnest, melancholy pop that can affect more than a couple tugs on the heartstrings — or if you just want to hear a really good voice.
(Note: As I’m finishing up this review, I’m listening to some tracks from one of William Hut’s solo recordings courtesy of his website. They’re not too dissimilar from Poor Rich Ones, but definitely takes the sound of his old band in some new directions, adding in some textures and elements — lap steel! — that work quite nicely. I can’t say how the rest of the album holds up, but these tracks are quite stellar by themselves, and worth checking out.)