KEEGAN DEWITT – Islands
Upon the first pass through Keegan DeWitt’s latest offering, Islands, I began setting various tracks to my unfinished soliloquy-ridden screenplay about an off-beat writer trying to fit in and the girl he just cannot woo. It’s understandable since DeWitt’s M.O. has been scoring essential “mumblecore” films (according to Wikipedia, the artist has scored two of the 20 movies listed under the subject). The album comes together knowing that. It’s also going to earn him an unshakable amount of comparisons to singer/songwriter/Pixar music maker Randy Newman (yes, the “Short People got no reason to live,” Randy Newman). Listening to his vocals and his phrasing the Randy Newman parallel does not end. With the cynical pop-music-writer cap on, one might assume Dewitt is aiming for a latter-day Elvis Costello. Remove the cap and one will hear some genuinely good music.
While making a commendable sound, the track listing on Islands is schizophrenic. Conventionally, the song “Come Celia” is track five, exactly where it should be. Alternatively, when the listener is ready for another up-tempo number after track seven, “Complicated,” we are treated to a dreamy untitled instrumental. That describes Islands perfectly. As an album it can’t decide if it’s traditional or artistically unpredictable. That doesn’t make it bad, but uneven.
Lyrically, the album follows the same discussion as the track listings. Lines like, “I wish you could have two/everything beautiful reminds me of you,” in the song “Telephone” make the listener anticipate the next track. There are other similar moments on the album, particularly the track “Walk Alone” where he literally rhymes “Above” “Of” and “Dove.” The song “If You Do” a pass though because it is a good, heartfelt tender song.
Revisiting the track “Come Celia,” it sounds like nothing else on the record without being out of place. It was like hearing “Ambulance” on TV on the Radio’s Desperate Youth, Bloodthirsty Babes for the first time. It’s like nothing else on the record, but that song is supposed to be there and it makes the entire body of work that much better. Admittedly, I was sold as soon as I heard the Hammond B-3 and an up-tempo, Phil Spector wall-of-sound kicked in. That will sucker me in every time. I want to cancel my Last.fm account because I don’t want people to know how many times I had this song on repeat.
It is obvious that DeWitt has loads of musical talent. While not being perfect, Islands will certainly make the investigative person seek out his previous work and the films he has scored to hear his progression as a composer. As a folk-pop record relies heavily on the violins, but the instrumental track would stand on its own merits. Kudos for DeWitt for trying to grow as an artist, as it will be interesting to hear what else he has to offer as a singer/songwriter.
(Izumi Records, The Old Flint Barn, Mountfield Road, Lewes
BN7 2UR United Kingdom)