I’ve seen Jonathan Boulet play live a few times now, and on the first listen of his album the familiarity of his songs was comforting. Boulet works with minimalist notions of song structure – much like Sufjan Stevens, actually, in theory – which allows reasonably simple chord structures to support different melodic riffs that eventually build up and layer over each other. The benefit of this for Boulet is that repetition plays a massive part in all of his melodies, which in turn drills his riffs into the minds and memories of his audience.
The reason why this isn’t just boring is that the percussion is so strong, and also because the quality of the harmonies provided by Boulet’s band of young, talented musicians is quite high. It is, however, Boulet’s songwriting that brings the album to a higher standard – when he chooses to bring in a bass line, or to remove a backing guitar, or to pause drums – it’s those decisions that make a song powerful or just another song.
There’s a lot of Radiohead in here – the chord progression and melody of ‘You Never Knew Me’ has a very Radiohead sound, as do the chromatic guitar beginnings of ‘After All’. But Boulet’s work also reminds me of bands like Doves and Animal Collective, and even some recent Sigur Ros (mostly ‘Gobbledigook’ and ‘Inní mér syngur vitleysingur’) mainly because of the persistent and driving percussion that is the backbone to this whole album.
The four standout tracks – ‘Continue Calling’, ‘321 Ready or Not’, ‘North To South East To You’ and ‘A Community Service Announcement’ are filled with energy, young love, holidays, risks, and talent. There’s lots of that. A really strong understanding of melody and some uncontrived lyrics make these songs so effective. Boulet really knows how to build up to a climax, too, which is almost inevitably at the end of each song – but if you’ve got something working, why change? Perhaps we can expect some more experimentation in further albums, but at the moment Boulet’s formula provides him with eleven pretty solid songs and a good, recognisable, unique sound.
‘Continue Calling’ reveals some little misplaced harmonies and a strong Australian accent, which jars a little, but it also sets the tone as relaxed and happy, which is exactly what the album is: it’s a bunch of young guys who love music really just unpretentiously giving it everything they’ve got and having a freaking great time doing it. Enjoyable, interesting and even danceable.