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Boy in Static - Newborn

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Artist: Boy in Static

Album: Newborn

Label: Alien Transistor

Review date: Mar. 9, 2005

The most earnest of pleas from the novice poet, from Hemingway’s A Moveable Feast to Rickie Lee Jones’ eponymous debut, require of the audience both patience (with a young voice) and empathy (with a young heart). The sophomore slump would be of no consequence were the first offering not so overwhelmingly difficult.

While the title Newborn from Boy in Static (a.k.a. Alex Chen) seems to suggest a re-awakening, this rich and often highly-textured offering resonates with a patience and maturity rarely heard in debut recordings, even if it occasionally fails to muster the empathy we have come to expect from noteworthy songwriter debuts. If that certain empathy is lacking, however, it’s an understandable flaw, given that Chen is just 23 years old. His lyrical musings on love lost may not cover much new ground, but these 10 songs seem far more focused on instrumental delivery than on songwriting. From the fuzzed-out acoustic guitar on the delicious “Bellyful” to the final decay of “Slept Fine,” the record sounds remarkably fresh and precise, each note (if not each lyric) well-crafted and deliberate. Equal parts dark, synthetic pop (a la Ultra Vivid Scene) and soaring guitar rock, Newborn finds common territory with releases from Manitoba/Caribou, Fog, and even Piano Magic, while dispensing with any avant-garde dispositions in favor of a more melodic, dynamic sound.

While every bit of guitar, harmonium, and vocal line was recorded in his Boston apartment, the final album was mixed at Abbey Road with a warmth that teems through the entire record – resulting in a collection of songs that have more in common with My Bloody Valentine or Lush than bedroom home recordings. That same polished naiveté permeates the best songs here, from the aforementioned “Slept Fine” to the minimalist “Broke,” which sounds quite similar to recent offerings from the Notwist (not a coincidence given Newborn is on the band’s Alien Transistor label).

While all his innocence hardly establishes Boy in Static’s debut as a significant lyrical statement, its resounding, dynamic roar certainly announces his arrival as one of the more interesting voices in this, the latest generation of home-schooled auteurs.

By Ian Fitzpatrick

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