Jordan Burchel is unafraid to wear his heart on his sleeve and has a musical and lyrical facility outstripping many of his peers. The ten tracks featured on his newest release Vowel Sounds is unafraid to present himself in a variety of poses – vulnerable, unhappy, angry, pained, they are all here. These emotions are presented in a musical landscape that is endlessly varied and often pulls surprising wildcards from his skill set. The ability to do this is thanks in a big way to his musical imagination. There’s an expansive approach utilized over the course of these songs that goes far beyond the stellar first album, Mood Swing, released in 2014 thanks to the growing command that he has in his musical arranging. While Vowel Sounds is never an outright rock album that forsakes other influences to make its artistic point, Burchel has a clear understanding how to set his songwriting up as dramatically as possible.
The first track is a great case in point. Many of the songs on Vowel Sounds have a upbeat pace cutting against the relatively downcast tone of their lyrics, but rather than rushing by in an impatient move to impress listeners, “Paper Face” has a steady push with rising and falling melody lines that press urgently against the audience, building tension, then offering a satisfying release. “Dust” comes from a similar sensibility. It sets you up to expect something quite different, even experimental, with its extended introduction before it transforms into a forcefully melodic rock track with propulsive drumming. The pace is tempered in an interesting way on “Blesh” – things are moving from the outset and never stop, but its revolving feel and the gradual escalation towards the finish is one of the most artfully handled spots on Vowel Sounds.
Some of the gentler and slower moments on Vowel Sounds are equally revelatory. The track “Why They Call You Blue”, featuring the contributions of talented Boston based singer/songwriter Sam Moss, is one of the most deeply felt performances on this album and has an almost cinematic presentation that holds your ear no matter its languid movement. “Lilymoore Pts. 1 & 2”, easily the most structurally challenging piece on Vowel Sounds, spends eight minutes plus changing gears in surprising ways. The near-shuffle feel of the first half comes to a dramatic, but completely coherent, conclusion before shifting into a much more deliberate and slowly paced ending section. The marriage of these two disparately toned halves fits together quite nicely.
The three most thrilling tracks on the album are easily “Constants”, “Coffee Breath”, and “Unfeeling Everything”.. The guitar takes on added importance in each of these songs and reveals how successful his efforts to incorporate a harder edged attack into his songwriting have proven. The last of those tracks, in particular, shows great dynamism in the guitar playing. Jordan Burchel shows a real passion for songwriting and building on the massive promise illustrated in his debut. Vowel Sounds reaches for something grander than your typical indie rock performer and, yet, does an emotionally affecting job of keeping the listener as close as possible to the heart beating behind each performance.
9 out of 10 stars