March 2, 2020
Released On April 19, 2019
Released By King Of Truth Records
It’s hard to know what more I can say about Troubadour No. 1 by Richard Aufrichtig (who sometimes records as Ocean Music). After all, I gave it a full review here, named it my #1 album of 2019 here, and even managed to get Greg Kot and Jim DeRogatis to discuss it on Sound Opinions here. But I have a few additional thoughts.
I’m a very un-neurotic, centered listener. I don’t need the approbation of millions (or even 100’s) to feel secure that the music I’m listening to is superb. So why do I bother shouting from the rooftops about all the music I love that seems stuck in obscurity, such as Troubadour No. 1? It’s out of compassion. Compassion for you, the listener. I want you to have at least have the opportunity to hear fantastic music, or at least decide for yourself whether or not it’s fantastic. I know what emotional succor and satisfaction I receive from this music and I think its warm embrace will hold you, too, and make this world feel less like a cold, uncaring wasteland of dog-eat-dog selfishness.
Troubadour No. 1 is a gift from a man with a big heart, musical talent that goes through the roof, and the ability to be vulnerable — as that cover picture proves! If you like music with great depth, inventiveness, passion, and poetry, this album is for you. I’m going to leave it at that because, having lived with many of these songs since 2017, when Richard sent me demos, and hearing them live several times, I think the reactions and responses of my fellow writers will carry further weight than my own words. I could rhapsodize for hours about “Paris,” for example, a sublimely bittersweet duet with Holly Miranda (see Issue #14) set to a loping near-disco beat, but instead I am bequeathing the wonders of Troubadour No. 1 to them — and to you — and only ask that you open the door a crack and let Richard Aufrichtig in.
P.S. Richard is also a fantastic live performer, as likely to be finger-picking an acoustic guitar for a delicate ballad as to be rolling around on the floor playing a screaming electric guitar solo. If you’re on the west coast, catch his first L.A. show on April 2nd. Tickets here.
Majestic songwriting from a prismatic musician looking to bottle a bit of his intimate, sundry vision.
I had an interesting path through Troubadour No. 1, mainly because the first track had me transfixed. I was interrupted during my first spin of “Blown Open,” and when I returned, I wanted to stay there forever. There’s a tremendous sense of depth to the song. It starts immediately with Richard Aufrichtig’s voice, which is stretched by reverb and rich with texture and emotional shading, and it continues via equally rich instrumentation — an elegant clarinet arrangement, and varied guitar sounds that range from near to distant. The song is a whole world unto itself, and no matter how many times I listen, I still feel like there are corners of that spacious place I haven’t yet visited. It also made me cautious about listening on, not knowing whether the subsequent tracks would match the arresting scope of “Blown Open.” But I needn’t have worried, because that sense of depth is everywhere on the album. In fact, there’s a fun illustration of it right away in “Paris,” with the pairing of fluttering flute and moaning harmonica — sounds that could represent two distant regions on the continuum from formal to homespun. Aufrichtig’s voice in “An Old Dream” is deep by a different measure; he plumbs his lower register at the 1:30 mark, issuing a low, sustained note that blurs the line between breathing and singing. It’s a powerful moment. The human voice is the most personal instrument there is, the result of each person’s unique physiology. That passage of “An Old Dream” is like holding an X-ray of Aufrichtig’s vocal cords up to the light. At the same time, his lyrics invite you to zoom out. Imagery relating to the sky appears throughout, like a regular reminder of the vast expanse that awaits an upward gaze at any time of day or night. At seven tracks — just 32 minutes — Troubadour No. 1 certainly isn’t the longest album we’ve covered, but it may be one of the biggest.
I found the task of describing Troubadour No. 1 in terms of genre, or simply what Richard Aufrichtig does throughout it, to be rather challenging. You can’t simply go with something like folk rock or indie rock or just indie. Those terms are probably true to one degree or another, but they’re not accurate enough by themselves to be effective. You can’t explain it by elimination, either. Sure, you can assert that Troubadour isn’t deathgrind or crunk, but that doesn’t give you much forward progress. In fact, you’d be more or less in the same place that you started had you not bothered. So even after multiple (careful) listens, the best I could do is basically a “What if ‘X’ and ‘Y’?” kind of explanation. Example: “Blown Open” is what would happen if Jim James attempted a late-period Radiohead song. Or “Paris” is what might result if The National worked with Peter Gabriel to write an Astral Works-era Van Morrison tune. Elsewhere, there are classical influences and maybe just a smidge of U2, among other sounds. And here we arrive at what’s really neat about this album: however a song starts, it doesn’t go where you think it will. Yet, these songs don’t make hard lefts; instead, the progression is subtle and moves you along with it, almost like a gentle tide carrying you out to sea. Which, of course, is fitting for a record whose lyrics have a sense of distance and longing to them. One of the definitions of the word ‘troubadour’ is a wandering singer. It might be a tad too literal for our purposes here, but that still sounds about right.
Steve Lampiris (@stevenlampiris)
Sure, Let’s Go With That
A thrilling vocal timbre serves as the compass to an ever-changing landscape of gliding grooves & meticulous melodies.
It’s been documented that some early Native American tribes believed that the act of photography would capture their souls. This belief faded over time, of course, but I’ve always found the notion of a recording irreversibly capturing some essence of a person a romantic one. In my 20s, sitting in a bar in Wakefield, Quebec, I was listening to a fairly well-known singer-songwriter performing at what has become a legendary Canadian venue called The Blacksheep Inn. She sat at the front of the room with nothing but a guitar, hunched over it, gently plucking strings and singing breathy, sincerely delivered melancholy. There was no smoke and there were no lights. Only the candles flickered on our tables and the audience of about 30 people, seated at small restaurant tables in groups of 2-4 were focused on every note. Behind her, the sky darkened slowly outside the windows with a beautiful lake and the Gatineau hills providing an air of majesty to the whole event. Thinking back, it’s difficult for me to separate the environment from her music. The sound of her singing songs written to convey genuine feelings and experiences was nevertheless strung up on the precarious scaffolding of guitar strums that fade out and falter all too quickly leaving nothing behind but the accidental clink of a wine glass or a cough from the back of the room. Outside, the wildlife rustled through the nearby forest oblivious to the magic contained within those walls and the screen door near the entrance let in just enough sound to punctuate her pauses with the percussion of natural rhythms. Maybe a bird chirp, maybe a branch snapping, maybe the crickets, but rather than a bland or blank silence, there existed a gentle and comforting white noise of life.
Later that year, her CD came out and thought it contained the same songs they were larger, played stronger and made room for the input of half a dozen musicians and producers. As most musicians do, she saw her CD as an opportunity to do her best work. For her, that was larger sounds, more instruments, the interpretation of a soloist interjected into the otherwise vulnerable moments. The breaks and the silences were void, vacuous nothings — arresting for their contrast but containing nothing other than a pause for drama’s sake. It was, in a word, disappointing. The recording had failed to capture her soul.
When I listen to Richard Aufrichtig’s Troubadour No. 1, I am brought back to nights like that one in Wakefield. Moments like these happen in cafes all over the world where people experience special performances which at the time seem casual and pedestrian but are appreciated only later as intimate musical connections which will likely never be recreated. Especially in “Paris” and “Blown Open,” Aufrichtig manages to deliver what feels like an authentic and heartfelt rendition of what he wrote. His only additions are there to help punctuate — the squealing and askew sound of a guitar feedback drone, the all-too-ordinary heartbeat of a drum rhythm. A part of his soul feels like it may have been captured in the recording. He didn’t try to “make this his best work”, and that may well be exactly why it is.
This is bar-b-q music. It’s a syrupy nightcap to be consumed by consenting adults consuming syrupy nightcaps. It almost feels wrong to listen to this record without a fire pit and a winding trail of tiki torches (no Charlottesville). And let’s just get this out of the way right now: your boy Rich makes me feel like I’m listening to Chris Martin after having consumed a millennia’s worth of Sprite & promethazine. It’s not necessarily a bad thing, I’d just feel remiss if I didn’t point out the uncanny similarity in vocal tones, inflections, and general vibe. And then about half a minute into the opening “Blown Open,” I was blown away. By this point everyone should know that there’s two things that I feel are criminally underutilized in popular music: children singing background vocals and clarinets/oboes/lesser woodwinds. Well, the smooth legatos of the clarinets on the opening number bring such character, such weight to the piece. It’s the sizzle that makes the hair on your neck stand up. Much to the same end result, the fluttering flutes on “Paris” whirl us into a colorful, dream-like state that I haven’t indulged since the last time my dad strong-armed his Jethro Tull greatest hits on me as we were en route to the Outer Banks. I can’t say that this is a record that I’d normally listen to, but I can certainly appreciate it for it’s gravitas. This is the record that your mom plays late on Friday nights when the children are away at sleepovers, and she finally has a moment to herself on the back porch with a bottle of souvenir blanc. And porch cigs. Near unlimited porch cigs.
Despite the lavish production, there’s intimacy in each song’s arrangement, allowing a sense of vulnerable charm to easily cut through all the phonic layers.
This album was everything I needed to hear today. It’s been a rough 48 hours (I feel like it’s been a rough two months but still) and sometimes you just need the slow, melancholy music to help you through. What I loved most was the different lengths of the songs, the track “Telephone” has such a wonderful instrumental ending that seems to just go on forever in the best way. I’m a big fan of The National and I definitely get those kind of vibes from this album, whether they were an inspiration to him or not, his voice and the tone of the music just reminded me of them in some ways. The piano opening to the track “An Old Dream” is so hauntingly beautiful, and the entire song is really too. I’ve just been playing it on repeat because I don’t want it to end. Sometimes you just hear a song at the right moment and whatever you’re going through, it helps in whatever way it can. I can’t say enough good things about why I love this album so much. The second I pressed play, I knew I had found another to add to my already outrageously large Spotify collection, but what can I say? I just love good music, and this is very good music.
I came across a news story over the weekend about musicians making an algorithm to create every conceivable melody. Though it was intended to fight against the growing number of copyright lawsuits which is only hindering artists at a time when they enjoy more freedom than ever before, it opens up a litany of other questions, debates, and concerns. For me, the sheer thought of being able to reduce songwriting down to equations and models is deeply thought-provoking. It’s already harder than ever to sound original, so does this rule out the possibility of being a singular artist or creating a unique masterpiece? The gut-reaction is to scream no, but comb through any review of any acclaimed record, and you’ll find references to artists or pieces of work from the past. So is this even debatable? Is all music these days just varying degrees of derivative and imitative? As my mind wrestles with this quandary, I’m tasked with covering Troubadour No. 1 by Richard Aufrichtig for this publication, a record in which I find all sorts of answers. Here’s a record that so proudly carries hallmarks of other musicians, albums, and genres… and yet it is still so irrefutably unique. Nothing quite sounds like this record, even if you can pull out your own touchstones and hallmarks. Aufrichtig’s voice feels comparable to the deep resonance of The National’s Matt Berninger. The sophisticated grooves seem culled together from the past decade of Wilco releases. The infrequent duets might be lifted from the smokey underbelly of 2010s indie music (Milo Greene, Ex Cops, the list goes on). Even the arrangements, rich with spacious creativity, share some connection to artists like Julia Holter and Hamilton Leithauser, even if their definition of artistic scope is wildly different. Altogether though, I’m not quite sure any of these artists or even styles were thought of when creating this work of art, making it less of a pastiche of influences than just an informed symbolization of music’s journey. In the first two tracks alone, we get a taste of songwriting splayed through a kaleidoscope of originality. “Blown Open” utilizes a murmuring vocal line to provide true north as the arrangement sprawls around its chamber pop designation, suspending the listener in a dynamic sense of melodic orbit. But whereas the listener revolves around the vocals and words in that song, they’re whisked away in “Paris” through a sprawling bustle that dazzles with a sense of urgency, deeply contrasting the previous track which immersed the listener in a smoldering stasis of shimmering sounds. The two tracks couldn’t be further apart by themselves, but placed onto an album by any of the artists previously mentioned, they would seem like intriguing outliers, melodic aberrations that were meant for something else. Altogether, Troubadour No. 1, despite its familiar dissections and titular homage, sounds like nothing else out there right now. Its beauty is captivating and its resonance is invigorating, but above all else, its irrefutable singularity is what makes it an enduring symbol of indelible art.
Running Season by Flashlight
Chosen By Darryl Wright