Album Review: Rayland Baxter – Wide Awake

It seems that the world of passable, digestible, indie-folk-pop is an ever-expanding landscape that continues to disappoint over time. With pretentious, pseudo-philosophical lyrics a la Father John Misty (with none of Mr. Tillman’s self-awareness or humor) and melodies reminiscent of that song you hear at Urban Outfitters and you think “oh yeah, I think I’ve heard this one”, Rayland Baxter’s Wide Awake leaves a lot to be desired. Drifting from track to track with no tonal shifts or musical variety, the record bounces along with a carefree, easy pace that reads as passive and frankly boring.

A few tracks feature some interesting instrumental interventions – a prime example is Angeline, a 4-minute track that feels at least 7 minutes long and includes a section of vague, quiet noodling from a piano man while Rayland Baxter sings about a woman or America or a different woman – but these rare moments of musical risk feel contrived. It’s as if they’re put in to say “hey, this isn’t just another four chord song”, when maybe it is. Most of the record is echo-ey guitars and studio produced “low-fi” vocals. If The Lumineers decided to collaborate with one-hit-wonder Gotye, it’d probably sound a good lot like this.

If any track deserves to be singled out as a standout, it’d have to be the closing Let It All Go, Man. While the rest of the record feels resistant to its simplicity, the closing track instead basks in its own simplicity and leaves the album on a surprisingly genuine note. The lyrics still feel as generic as the songs before it, but these don’t feel like generic lyrics that are trying to disguise themselves as meaningful. Its straightforward nature gives it a sort of effortless quality that makes the track feel much more personal than the ones before it.

Overall, this is an album I’d feel comfortable playing at my job, where the point is that no one is supposed to be paying attention to the music. It’s not bad, it’s just background noise.

Annelise Lipowitz