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Spencer Radcliffe & Everyone Else - "If I Knew How" | Album Review


by Nick Adams (@n1ck_adams)

After making their on-record debut last year, Spencer Radcliffe & Everyone Else return with If I Knew How, a 16-minute EP of re-recorded songs from Radcliffe’s past solo work. Immediately following tracking for 2017’s Enjoy the Great Outdoors, the band gave new life and a fuller sound to these live favorites, some of which had been officially scrubbed from Radcliffe’s Bandcamp page (but can be found on YouTube). These lost songs, from 2013’s Wet Pink Construction Paper Mask (“I Remember”) and 2014’s Keeper (“Tina,” “Pasture”), make up half of the six-song release. The other selections include the title track from Brown Horse, his 2014 split with R.L. Kelly, and two songs from the first Spencer Radcliffe album, Looking In, released in 2015 (“Relief,” “Parent”). The new recordings serve as a guide to how Radcliffe’s music has evolved during the past few years.

It makes sense why Radcliffe would choose to revisit his past work. The older tracks are very much the product of solitude—a single guitar carries the bulk of the instrumentation, drums are sparse, vocals are double tracked and pitched up. Even his proper debut album, Looking In, was made on his own time and budget before getting picked up by Run For Cover. The skeletal production of his solo releases presents a blank canvas on which a full band can color in the gaps. With the Everyone Else full-length under his belt and a robust supporting cast, Radcliffe is able to cast his past ideas through a new lens; feelings that previously seemed lonely now present as self-assured.

The primary change on If I Knew How is the increase in resources—a cellist, a Rhodes pianist, a full-time drummer among them. The arrangements are grander, and more grounded in a uniform sound. Gone is the droning, the static buzz, the sporadic bleeps and whirrs, the squeaks of guitar strings. The songs on If I Knew How would sound more disparate in their previous incarnations than they do played anew on the EP, which bustles with the energy of a cohesive live set. The band is able to create affecting climaxes without fast tempos, and Radcliffe’s singing carries weight without him raising his voice. The collaboration has moved Radcliffe’s sound from lo-fi bedroom recordings to that of an earthy, mellow jam band, characterized by an acidic tilt and controlled cacophony.

Radcliffe grew relatively more verbose on Enjoy the Great Outdoors, with longer songs and more tangible lyrics, often telling stories beyond the abstract sketches of his older work. Now, returning to these short vignettes, he has taken the chance to modify his vocal delivery with a firm confidence. On “Tina,” the narrator’s regret was previously sung with uneasiness—especially in the closing line, “She walked out and we never said goodbye”—but the perspective has shifted to become matter-of-fact, a natural progression for an old song and old feelings. A handful of the re-recorded tracks feature the type of outdoor imagery that Radcliffe has continued to explore in his recent songwriting. He wants to ride a horse to new lands. He watches the wind blow through the leaves. He even sees himself as a part of the surrounding nature—on “Pasture,” he sings from the perspective of the grass.

The EP closes with “I Remember,” known in 2013 as “I Remember a Porcelain Face,” a track that drones with haunting serenity. In 2018, the song bursts with warmth from the onset. Though Radcliffe’s voice isn’t as dynamic as his band, he still conveys a more conclusive and celebratory tone than he did five years ago. The new recordings haven’t rendered their predecessors obsolete; in fact, the solo material remains valuable because it’s so different. If I Knew How shows how music can expand with maturity, perspective, and collaboration.