There's something to be said for simplicity. Often in music, an overly ambitious artist will try to accomplish too much, and that usually results in the message being drowned out. Based on his previous output, that case could certainly be made against Ryland Bouchard. As the brain trust behind the Robot Ate Me, Bouchard has made a habit of indulging his experimental sweet tooth. They Ate Themselves (2003) was a scattershot affair, and Vacation (2004) was too fixated on novelty. Carousel Waltz, the Robot Ate Me's third disc, opts for some restraint. The album's sparse arrangements combine with Bouchard's aching, heartfelt vocals to create a melancholy sound flecked with moments of hope.
Sincerity is one of the hardest things to pull off in music, so it's to Bouchard's credit that he does so effectively. Set to his lightly strummed acoustic guitar, usually accompanied only by some muted horns and light percussion, Carousel Waltz is an intimate affair. All of the songs, for better or worse, occupy the same emotional space. Bouchard sings about love, realized and otherwise, and about the importance of never giving up on life, even when it might seem like the easiest course. It's the later aspect of the music that truly sets the album apart. Anybody can (and consequently many people do) write about heartbreak and life's sorrows. To do so and still remain carefully optimistic that everything will work out in the end is no small revelation. When Bouchard's creaky voice sings "You should make sure you don't give up/ Before you can't turn around/ There's no use fighting/ These battles from behind" during "Come Together," it can suck the cynicism out of even the blackest heart.
With the album running just more than thirty minutes, Bouchard certainly doesn't overstay his welcome. Quick and to the point, Carousel Waltz vies for your heart, showing you that as bad as life can get, there's still so much beauty to be found.