Remember how Andy Shauf kind of “came out of nowhere” with one of the best albums of 2016 (The Party)? It was beguiling, challenging, and met with rapturous acclaim. Everyone loves a dark horse (for the most part).
That being said, music most certainly is not a competition in which one artist challenges an incumbent band for some intangible trophy; It's been hammered home as being wholly subjective. Then again, it's hard to deny when there’s a debut that’s so moving, mighty, and majestic you can’t help but think it’s a cut above the rest.
Point and case – Cameron Avery and his debut solo LP, Ripe Dreams, Pipe Dreams.
The record is an absolute and unequivocal triumph (yes, I know – “Yeah, well, that’s just, like, your opinion, man.”), as Avery all but abandon’s the trappings of his more publicized musical associations.
For the uninitiated, a quick Wikipedia dive will inform you of Avery’s involvements with psych dynamos Tame Impala and POND, as well as some auxiliary work with The Last Shadow Puppets, and fronting his own band, The Growl. Let’s take a moment for the fan boys to settle themselves after writhing with elation at the sumptuous smorgasbord of indie music that is Avery’s resume-to-date. But that’s neither here nor there – we’re focusing on Avery’s newest (and arguably, his finest) project, Ripe Dreams, Pipe Dreams.
In a word, Ripe Dreams, Pipe Dreams is sublime. Avery’s departure from psych rock and subsequent re-orienting toward spaghetti-western-meets-cinematic-lounge-music is a thing of beauty; It's a near master class level of seamless transition.
Where the majority of Avery’s musical projects rest soundly within the realm of neo-psychedelia, Ripe Dreams, Pipe Dreams is about as nebulous in genre as one could hope for. Granted, there’s a distinctive (albeit indeterminate at times) emotion to each song that serves as the thru line to the album as a whole; well, that, and Avery’s dramatic baritone. Everything else on the record seems to take its own liberties of expression, in turn making for a magnificently mercurial sounding work of art.
Take the opening pair of tracks on Ripe Dreams, Pipe Dreams – “A Time and Place” and “Do You Know Me By Heart” – the former of the two has a romantic lullaby feel, with Avery crooning over a smile and display amongst loaded words and passing slurs. Meanwhile, “Do You Know Me By Heart” sounds like cross between '50s/'60s era pop, a la Nancy Sinatra meets modern day lounge pop of Michael Bublé (but a thousand times better).
After flexing his pop prowess muscles, Avery sends the record in a different direction on “Dance with Me,” the would-be Nick Cave-meets-Leonard Cohen spoken singing single that toes the line between sinister and endearing. Meandering baritone guitar and horn blasts ebb and flow with each bemused line of the track – “I’m just a call away / I’m just a plane by day / if you’ll just dance with me.”
Slowly but surely, Avery begins to identify his definitive sound, somewhere between cosmic pop and the aforementioned spaghetti western. “Wasted On Fidelity” touches on "shows to stop / and pills to pop," offering Avery’s most apparent confidence in his narrative, while “Big Town Girl” commences the cementing of Avery’s pop presence. It’s a romantic swerve of cynicism and solicitude that places Jane (aka “Big Town Girl”) at the forefront of Avery’s mind and tongue.
The motifs and themes of Ripe Dreams, Pipe Dreams are suggestive in a way, as the majority of songs center on placing unidentified lovers on somewhat beguiled, somewhat sordid pedestals of existence, which in a way create this gritty realism to the album’s overall narrative. In a way, the songs feel familiar and extraordinary all the same, similar to a Raymond Carver story.
That being said, the heavy baritone in Avery’s voice and his guitar do conjure up imagines of Cormac McCarthy minus the blood and guts. For instance, “Disposable” takes the concept of romantic shelf life and the reality of life’s inconceivable (and mostly inevitable) shortcomings influencing relationships.
So while Ripe Dreams, Pipe Dreams reaches it full form somewhere in the middle of its run, the album still challenges the listener to experience the record on Avery’s terms. “Watch Me Take it Away” is a musical despot’s dream, running from aggressive avant-gardism to 60s power pop to the slightest hint of Impala-esque psych rock, only to be undermined (and ultimately, superseded) by Ripe Dreams, Pipe Dreams’ sublime final third.
Ripe Dreams, Pipe Dreams ends on a run of cinema level of “long songs,” allowing Avery to express his fullest scope of feeling and imbue his ultimate musings in their most effective fashions. There’s “An Ever Jarring Moment,” which serves as just that, following “Watch Me Take it Away,” a near tonal opposite. Then, there’s “C’est Toi,” which out of all the songs on the record, seems to have the longest half-life. In terms of versatility, “C’est Toi” is the warmest of the bunch, all the while maintaining the cynical despondency of the album as a whole. Also, its just a damn good love song.
In maintaining the beautifully mercurial nature of Ripe Dreams, Pipe Dreams, the album ends on the hyperbolic yarn that is “Whoever Said Gambling’s For Suckers.” Its somewhat akin to a Bowie-meets-Cave satirical expansion on the song’s namesake take on the Motorhead lyric. There’s talk of Dale the Dog Trainer and splattering cerebellum on the back wall, a desperado’s tale of bounty hunting noir. Its something wholly unique to the album and Avery’s music itself.
All in all, Ripe Dreams, Pipe Dreams is an intrepid album to say the least. It runs the gamut of genre and challenges any and all conceptions of what an album’s structure should look like. I’d be lying if I didn’t say that Ripe Dreams, Pipe Dreams was a total an unequivocal surprise in its sonic excellence – half because a psych rock album was expected, and secondly, the overall superiority of the record is astonishing. While we may only be a wee three months into 2017, don’t be surprised when you see Avery’s name cropping up here and there come year end list season; I know it will certainly have a place on mine.