Published Mar 10, 2020On Thirteen, his debut as Louis Prince, NYC-based Jake McMullen often succeeds in creating something distinctive from a fairly familiar palette of sounds. The '80s-inspired woozy synths and shimmering guitars that have been a mainstay of indie music for over a decade are joined here by pianos, muted horns and a feel for space and texture that leads to some impressively lush arrangements.
"The Number Thirteen" is a case in point — opening with a propulsive motorik beat and bass line, while a bubbly keyboard loop hovers in the background, it soon finds room for layers of synth that weave in and out of McMullen's hushed vocal melody, before the extended coda plays him out with a major downshift in tempo and some clean acoustic guitar strums.
There are shades of Destroyer in the way that these songs play around with languid pacing and smooth jazz elements, and McMullen's indistinct croon occasionally calls to mind Arthur Russell, but it's the influence of Bon Iver that looms larger than anything else here. With its piano loop, soft Auto-Tuned melody and soulful vocal samples, "Afternoon" could easily pass as a 22, A Million outtake, while the gently rousing chorus of "Afterward" also uses a similar box of songwriting tricks.
Thirteen lacks the melodic hooks or emotional expression it needs to truly resonate, but the album is rarely less than engaging on a moment-to-moment basis. There are moments of joy in hearing McMullen's intimate, understated songs being given room to breathe and unfurl into curious new shapes. (Last Gang)