Album Review: Avid Dancer – 1st Bath

By on Friday, 17th April 2015 at 12:00 pm
 

Avid Dancer 1st Bath coverJacob Dillan Summers is something of an unlikely songwriter. Having evolved through a sheltered fundamentalist Christian childhood into a stint in the U.S. Marine Corps and from there into an ill-fated love affair that led him to Alaska and back, Summers eventually found himself in Los Angeles, where he took on the unlikely moniker Avid Dancer and wrote an equally unlikely debut album, titled ‘1st Bath’.

On first listen, ‘1st Bath’ has all the trappings of a record written in Southern California: mellow guitar tones and light, laid-back vocals recorded in a gauzy haze of distortion and distance. More generally atmospheric than evocative of a specific emotion, the album has the pleasant warmth of a sun-soaked day along with the mildly disorienting effect of the sun shining into your eyes. I had my first full listen to ‘1st Bath’ during a trail run in the Tucson desert, and it occurred to me in that setting that the album is aurally equivalent to the bright shimmer of midday sunlight, its sharp clarity initially obscured by the glare.

Opening track ‘All the Other Girls’ sets the tone for the album with an echoing background vocal melody over a groovy foundational bass and Summers’ detached double-tracked vocals opposing the intense emotional longing of the main guitar riff. This track also sees the first of several surprising instrumental choices, in this case the sax solo that extends to the end of the song. Early single ‘All Your Words Are Gone’ has a ’60s acoustic folk vibe, and Summers’ singing is mildly reminiscent of Paul Simon over the lines “find your joy / find your joy today / don’t have to look so hard / don’t have to look so far”. The vibraphone melody in the ending adds a very delicate and genuine quality to an already outstanding example of songwriting.

In the middle of the tracklisting, Summers dials up both the tempo and the emotional intensity of the album. The distorted guitars and skittering percussion of ‘Not Far to Go’ relay a more anxious feeling, while ‘All the Things You Keep’ tosses aside the previously relaxed pace for a prominent bass groove and restlessly pounding drums. By the time the buzzing synths of ‘Medication’ kick in, the vibe of the album has definitely sharpened to a harder edge. ‘I Want to See You Dance’ completely abandons the shimmering effect of the earlier tracks and takes on more of an ’80s synth pop style with a vibe that feels almost more punk than folk.

[youtube]https://youtu.be/mqTKs2FlAm4[/youtube]

From this point of denouement, Summers backtracks through gentle folk ballads (‘Whatever’s on Your Mind’) and California dream pop (‘Nobody Else’) before touching on the vaguely country twang of ‘Why Did I Leave You Behind’ and closing with the edgier electric guitars and discordant harmonies of ‘Up Against a Wall’. The wide stylistic variety is balanced by the album’s consistent melodicism, in both the vocal and instrumental lines, and its overarching lo-fi production quality.

Avid Dancer emerged from the ashes of Jacob Summers’ previous life, and his songcraft clearly continued to evolve over the course of writing ‘1st Bath’. The album is a carefully constructed and well thought out collection of songs which manages to experiment with a variety of styles while maintaining a sense of flow and cohesion very rare in a debut. Its summery sonic combination of glimmering sunlight and breezy detachment will no doubt make a perfect accompaniment for vacations at the beach or cruises along the coastline with the top down.

8.5/10

Avid Dancer’s debut album ‘1st Bath’ is available now via Grand Jury Records. Our past coverage of Avid Dancer, including his appearance at SXSW 2015 and my interview with him in Austin, can be found here.

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