It’s an often dire affair. The ten songs on Jordan Burchel’s Vowel Sounds are frequently weighed down with introspection and gloom that, while it never quite rises to the existential despair heard from other quarters in popular music, rarely relents. This gray temperament is muted some by the intense musicality of the arrangements; melody is an overall strength of Vowel Sounds and there isn’t a single track, even the more languid cuts, that doesn’t entice audiences to continue listening based on the inviting instrumental textures. He works alongside a superb group of players on this release, but it is his Fender Squire guitar sound that sonically defines the release. It forms a strong call and response duet with his voice that’s handled in just the right way and the delicate dance of these competing voices gives the release its most consistently solid point.
A lot of Burchel’s songwriting reflects his efforts to contend with a disappointing and ill-fitting world. “Paper Face”, the album’s opener, introduces that angsty side of his writing in a very attention grabbing setting. His bracing guitar duels well with the drumming and the main theme of the song has an undeniable sharply upward quality. He dovetails his vocal melody into the arrangement’s movement and it gives the track an unity of sound and mood that’s very nice to hear. The album’s second song, “Dust”, begins with some ambient atmospherics before transitioning into a great pop rock song with a sleek, streamlined concentration of drumming, well placed guitar, and a generous but never strident assortment of synth sounds. Burchel slows things down considerably with the track “Why They Call You Blue”, but the orchestration of the various musical elements comes together with every bit of the same drama heard in the uptempo cuts. Burchel’s guitar, peppered with tasteful reverb, has a lightly elegiac quality without ever dominating the song and his use of ambient sound to create atmosphere is at its strongest here.
“Constants” is one of the most interesting songs on the album. The vast majority of the track features Burchel’s voice accompanied by low key, slightly meandering guitar. It isn’t until well into the second half of this nearly six minute song those other musical elements begin slowly rising from the mix. “Coffee Breath”, much like the opening song, is largely defined by the striking recurring guitar phrase. While the playing is highly melodic, there’s also some real bite in the playing, particularly in the style which it has been recorded. The album’s opus, if there is any such moment on Vowel Sounds, comes with the eight minute plus “Lilymoore Pts. 1 & 2”. The first half takes the musical posture of a stylish shuffle with acoustic guitar and a persistent pulse before Burchel introduces brass again near the end of the first half. The song breaks off for a few seconds and returns in its second half for a much stormier and briefer finale. The album’s final gem is “Jade Figurine” and the solo acoustic setting, coupled with some of the album’s best lyrics, makes this brief track one of the most distinguished songs on the release.
The lyrical mood doesn’t vary as much as older listeners might like but younger music fans will certainly respond to the aforementioned angst powering many of these songs. The musical aspects, however, will exert across the board appeal. Vowel Sounds proves that Jordan Burchel is a composer of rare distinction who produces inspired musical landscapes and his potential burns brighter than ever before.