Despite Lesser Gonzalez Alvarez’s well-known affiliation with the electro-spastic Wham City Collective, one look at his cover art tells you exactly what you’re getting yourself into. The beige background and strong black-inked lines on the cover of his debut, Why Is Bear Billowing?, instantly bring to mind his like-minded folk counterpart, Devendra Banhart. And a first listen to the opening track, “A Magic,” does little to negate this impression. He shares the same high-voiced warble and odd cadence that Banhart is known for. However, Lesser is far more “folk” than “freak,” and his lyrics are based more in the storytelling tradition than Banhart’s (although there is still plenty of talk of animals and body parts). He alludes to this, perhaps self-consciously, by including a rendition of Edward Lear’s “The Owl and the Pussycat.”
As the record continues, comparisons like this become less obvious, as we are slowly introduced to Lesser’s vision of the world. By the third track, “Pinecone Eyes,” he seems to have found his voice, and that track can’t be accused of anything other than being one of the best folk tracks produced post-millennium. “A Twist in the Sky” introduces his storytelling propensity in full force (“Now the baker has found a new love at last/ And there is no bread better than the bread of a baker whose sadness has finally past”). This type of clever wordplay gets a bit stale during parts of the record, such as in “The Letter B,” which has a rather obvious theme that comes across more gimmicky than earnest.
This is a stable first effort for this Cuban-born singer-songwriter. Clocking in at under forty minutes and based primarily on voice and guitar, it provides a brief reprieve from the festival-based anthemic rock that is so pervasive at the height of summer. Although it is perhaps colored unfairly because of its release at the tail end of the freak-folk phenomenon, hopefully Lesser Gonzalez Alvarez will be able to expand his sound enough to separate him from that genre’s boundaries.