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REVIEW: Aaron Booth: Transparent
8.18.2002 by Sean

Aaron Booth: Transparent [Boonbox Records, 2002] (mp3s)

Three words? one more step.

Aaron Booth's first release, the very-indie twenty-minute Tune Up was an album of astounding melody - on song after song, the melancholy pop was as infectious as, um, an infection, but so too was it reined in by its production. Cuts like "Ramblin' Train", that could easily have gone on for five minutes, fade out after two. With Transparent, Booth has moved on. It's a polished record, careful and slow: Booth's boyish, Paul McCartney voice over soft piano and friendly brushes of guitar. Sadly, the melodies have also been left behind; like Elliott Smith, this is pleasant but hookless melancholia... and like Smith, Aaron's not taking any risks.

Transparent's best cut comes at the very beginning; "When She
Appeared"'s calm, seaside melody travels sweetly over the tinkle of picked acoustic guitar and the patter of brushed drums. Booth sounds young and fresh, starry-eyed and head-over-heels. "Like love as a palace built with hands," he sings, a sweet "ooh" backing the swell of his lyrics. The melodic shift of the chorus, with its careful recitation of the song title, recalls the romantic awe of Royal City's At Rush Hour the Cars. "She" gives him reason to dream, reason to sing, and the words, however idealistic, are delivered with an honesty that warms my chest.

The songs that follow, however, never match the beauty of the first. "Where Is That Son" is wistful and nostalgic, its chorus cresting the strum of guitar, but nothing in these lyrics glitters. Despite the major-key smiling, the song comes too slow, trudging over yawning cymbal and snare. "Sleep in Cinescope" takes a breath and brings things back to life; "I love New York," sings Booth, "And I've never been there before. / I've counted the years in Times Square / and read from the apple falling through air." The poetry is lovely, and again Booth's innocence is laid bare before the listener, his voice an open book. The song goes on too long however, treading over the same territory, and when it falls away the listener needs somethng more than the sleepy follow-up, "Quiet a Little More". When "Quiet"'s chorus first appears, it shows signs of blossoming, but this potential is never met. "So wait for that sound to come, shudder through our walls, let go the instinct to cry over a noise...", he says brightly, and then, trundling into dimness, "and quiet a little more / quiet a little more / quiet a little more..."

"We Still Speak English" is a plainer, acoustic ballad - but despite a
Parisian whine, there's no sign here of real pain. It seems to be calling to Elliott Smith's "Needle in the Hay", trying to mimic his muffled anger, but the song is too grey, the eyes downward-turned. "Bed's Made" is pleasant, its limbs made up of soaring, wide-eyed repetition, yet the song never flowers beyond the initial promise. Transparent's principal flaw is simply that it's hard to get excited about. There are moments - the mourning trumpets that lift like a purple sunrise, the resonant, unaccompanied piano of "Somewhere in Between", the candlelight chorus of "I Was a Guest" - but each song sets its cards on the table within the first few bars. Not only do these cards resemble each-other, song to song; little unexpected rises out of them. I keep waiting for a shift in the sound, a sign of true passion, but instead of misery - it's unhappiness. Instead of true joy - muted delight.

These may seem petty distinctions, but its this lack of risk which prevents Booth's talent from truly glowing. The pop melodies stripped away, he must find new emotional territory to explore - dark corners and shimmering glades. Though he takes a step into one of such shadows on "Somewhere in Between", it's only a step... He can write, sing and compose - and do so as well as the likes of Hayden and Julie Doiron - he need simply grasp the confidence to push beyond the comfort zone, to paint the shapes not so easily discerned.

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