Saturday, September 26, 2020

Gus Dapperton 'ORCA' Review

Is Gus Dapperton an E-Boy? I mean, on the surface yes, just look at that album cover, but as the term has increasingly negative connotations, it’s important to ask instead, does Gus Dapperton SOUND like an E-BOY?

There’s an element of that identity which will always haunt Bedroom Pop as a whole, as in a field that seems to have an endless supply of soft spoken male singer/songwriters, to stand out, there needs to be  something decidedly different about you.

To a degree, Dapperton’s first album (Where Polly People Go to Read) certainly doesn’t fall victim to these tropes. For me, the way to describe his debut, is as music to slow dance to that isn’t boring. It has a keen pulse, and steers clear of the more self indulgent slower stuff that finds its way into the album cuts of more and more dream pop acts as time goes on.

I wish I could say the same for Orca. There are still those decidedly poppy singles that Dapperton has delivered on in the past, and the new production I’d argue actually makes some of the, for lack of a better word, ‘bangers’ on this album pop a lot harder than a few of the lesser tracks on Where Polly People Go to Read. Ultimately though, I think Orca suffers from the common complaint that’s often levied against young songwriters, overwriting. Gus Dapperton really likes his long words. While nobody but him can speak to his actual sincerity, on tracks like Post Humorous, chucking in words like ‘iridescence’ and ‘incandescence’ into the same chorus come off more like an English grad using a thesaurus to impress their lecturer, rather than the most concise way Dapperton could have described what he’s going for.

By all accounts he does seem to care, to enjoy writing, and most importantly isn’t smug about his work, but perhaps combined with the aesthetic and his method of delivery, most of the time Orca is just a case of you trying to tune out the deep musings on his psyche, more just to listen to arguably it’s best feature, the bass. One thing this album has in buckets is good basslines, ‘Palms’ is probably the best song Dapperton has ever recorded, and ‘Bluebird’ is also fantastic. Another feature of these which certainly works is his occasionally cracking voice, which isn’t something you’d usually cheer on, but adds a degree of authenticity his delivery is missing on the album.

There’s a definite growth in production here, with the traditional Bedroom Pop sound being swapped out for a more sparse and mature collection of tracks, but perhaps it’s that sparseness that shines a spotlight on the lyrics which fail to land.

He’s definitely taken on a whole host of influence, with even some cuts having a flavour of Arcade Fire, but what’s missing is an understanding of what makes the best singer songwriters such a force of personality and music. The ability to be concise in their writing. One comparison that’s given to literally every Dream Pop artist is Mac Demarco. While beating him off is effectively beating a dead horse at this point, the important thing to remember, especially with This Old Dog, is that he can say everything with very little.

There are some great tracks on Orca, some strangely experimental ones (like Grim which I haven’t mentioned but seems anomalous), but ultimately it falls victim to an admirable but in a few ways failed attempt to communicate inner turmoil. Perhaps Dappeton’s best known song is still ‘Prune You Talk Funny’, and while that is in part due to its fantastic video, I’d argue it’s also because of his simple, and ultimately more profound lyrics that communicate a concise and sweet meaning.

While the production has taken ‘less is more’ to heart, on Orca, Gus Dapperton still has a way to go with his lyricism.

- James Charalambides


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