By Joshua Hoey (@reflectiveDIY)
Richmond's Erik Phillips' first record under their given name is the sort of denatured medium-soft rock that's as effective as it is understated. One is so restrained that it's almost like these songs are screaming, “Look how calm and under control we are”. The main songwriting elements are softly-strummed acoustic guitar, perfectly loosened snare drum, plinkly/twinkly piano lines, and some tasty embellishments in the form of lap steel, cello, and some buddies tossing in the occasional vocal harmony.
Under their previous moniker, Cat Be Damned, Phillips sometimes utilized creaky drum machines and allowed some bum notes to make their way into the finished product. This is quite a bit more polished, while retaining its homespun charm and immediacy.
These are songs about people doing things. Who these people are, and the context in which these things are happening, is often unclear, but that's cool. Phillips wants to tell us a bit about them, and that's just fine. This lyrical style meshes nicely with the matter-of-fact arrangements and happy-just-to-be-here-making-tunes feeling.
The home-recorded aesthetic most closely recalls early Merge-affiliated bedroom auteur F.M. Cornog's East River Pipe project, down to breathy/whispery singing and stately tempos. There is perhaps a bit of Tobin Sprout's DNA here as well. Depending on generational affiliation, some folks will likely file this alongside their Azure Ray, Neva Dinova, or Now Its Overhead early 2000s Saddle-Creek-approved jewel cases.
There's a purity of vision that remains consistent throughout these ten songs. At best, this means the album flows by nice and smoothly. The flip-side critique would be that the whole thing is a bit samey, but there's no shame in letting this simply be what it wants to be. Phillips has their palette and they know how to operate within a set of limitations. This is an interesting progression for Phillips' still-young career, and there's a lot more to come.