If a musician writes stories instead of nonsensical lyrics with catchy rhymes, does it make him a folk singer? And if this same man keeps his accompanying music at a slow, melodic trot, does that make him emo?
Musicians are often carelessly lumped into categories based on how they approach their art, and I'm as guilty of doing it as the next guy is. I never thought about classifications or genres when I first listened to Mt. Egypt's sophomore release, Perspectives; I just enjoyed it for what it was. But as I attempt to critique Travis Graves's music, I find my mind drifting toward associations with indie-folkers such as Conor Oberst or Sam Beam or Devendra Banhart. But there's something that doesn't feel right about tossing Mt. Egypt into a category.
Graves the voice, mind and musician behind Mt. Egypt has a style all his own, but he touches on a variety of musicians' auras. There's a little bit of Nick Drake, a drop of Alex Chilton and a touch of Will Oldham. But it's all Graves, writing music that is full without being heavy. His ability to write simple songs and create beautiful compositions with more than just a guitar precludes him from being tossed in the "folk" bin, and his warming voice, free of the typical emo whine, supplants his "sensitive rocker" status. But what catches me most is this: His music is what indie rock was before it became a formula.
Perspectives shows a musician who has found his musical voice. A former semi-pro skateboarder, Graves's 2003 Record Collection debut, Battening the Hatches, was lower-fi and indistinct. But Perspectives opens the musical pallet. Each song features different instruments and sounds from strings to slow droning guitar effects, and it makes for a far more interesting album. The songwriting better described as storytelling takes you on a journey in each song, most of which are uplifting despite seeming despondent. Opener "We Are Here" sounds like a bitter song about being lost in life's meaning, but by the chorus "Everybody gets hungry/ everybody needs a way to believe that what they do has meaning" it's clear that the song is more an observation about life than a proclamation about life's meaninglessness.
Perspectives has the sound and attitude that indie rock used to embody. All the ego has been thrown to the wayside and replaced with honest music. So far, overzealous comparisons to indie-folk musicians aren't necessary, but once people get wind of Graves's music, references to Oberst will be inevitable. Until then I'm going to bask in the peace and quiet of Mt. Egypt and enjoy Perspectives for its simplicity and beauty.
Two Songs from the new record on myspace: http://www.myspace.com/mtegypt
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