Hand Built by Robots ( Brightside/Peermusic/Aware/Columbia, 2008 )
Unslushed because: Ambitious-looking 17-song CD, with the majority of the instruments played by Faulkner. I’ll always have a weakness for one-man bands, not that that’s much of a novelty these days. Plus I was curious about what those plucky major labels are up to. (I see you, Sony, hiding under all those indie shells! Come on out! Don’t be scared!) Sometimes you gotta root for the underdog.
Factors not initially considered: I think I was expecting a mildly experimental rock album, say a toned-down Radiohead. It turns out Faulkner is one of those dudes who absolutely shreds on acoustic guitar and alternates between perky rappy numbers and soggy ballads. I’ve never been without my trusty ten-foot pole when the likes of Jack Johnson turn up, and I have a feeling we’re in roughly the same territory here.
On further review: I said “rappy” above—peppier than the stately-but-laconic rapesque, more committed, for better or worse, than rappish. Whatever, it’s all wrap, i.e., white rap. Faulkner’s wrap is not necessarily bad: There’s some serious lyrical dexterity in “To the Light” and “Gone in the Morning,” a cute song about not remembering your dreams. It’s definitely corny, but I’m sure teenage girls love it, and I’d take it any day over the spongelike ballads (“I Need Something,” “Uncomfortably Slow,” “Ageing [sic; he’s English] Superhero”) that are like being on hold with the electric company, only without the phone.
But Faulkner tries all kinds of things. That oogly-boogly acoustic guitar is ubiquitous, but there are some electronics, some beats, a lamentable approximation of reggae (“People Should Smile More”), and a relatively unterrible venture into heaviness (“Teardrop”), although by “heavy” we’re not exactly talking Mastodon heavy—it’s more Dan Fogelberg “The Power of Gold” heavy. Most curiously, there’s “She’s Got the Time,” a gravelly low-fi throwaway in which the otherwise squeaky-clean singer seems to be channeling David Lee Roth’s mush-mouthed intro to “Ice Cream Man.” It’s only 80 seconds long and, just when you’re hoping Eddie might hijack the thing, it segues into the doofy “U.F.O.,” but it does shed light on one fact: This record might not have been that bad if the whole thing had been recorded that way. There’s something creepy about the sound of an overproduced singer-songwriter record, as though he’s sitting too close to you on the couch, but give me a little static, a little more amateurism, and I might only need a five-foot pole with this guy.