Conor Gains – Compass
Conor Gains’ Compass is a ten song outing from a singer/songwriter and musician rapidly solidifying his claim to being one of the mightiest forces on the indie music scene today. He has genuine potential for appealing to a mainstream audience, as well, taking what longtime figures in this vein like Ben Harper have been able to accomplish and building onto it with an even greater fluency of styles. His command of different facets of popular music’s idiom is something to behold and it’s no exaggeration to say Gains and his collaborators scarcely put more than a few feet wrong during the course of these ten songs. The polished and often evocative production surrounding the set helps enhance its strengths without ever drawing attention to itself and an impressive album cover completes the package in a thoughtful way. Conor Gains’ Compass is a must hear for anyone interested in hearing some of the best modern songwriting and risk taking you’ll hear.
“I Know” opens with a smattering of ambient sound obviously intended to help establish atmosphere and it’s a device Gains will return to later during the release. His ability to confidently ride a strong R&B groove comes across strong here. Groove is just as important with the second song “Walking Alone”, but it’s approached in a much more luxurious, sweetly heartbroken manner. Guitar is a lead instrument in this arrangement and shows a superb touch for accenting the mood of “Walking Alone”. One of the wickedest musical rides on Compass arrives with the raucous and often musically dazzling “Dance Like It’s Your Birthday” and Gains comes off like a rambunctious legend in the making every bit a top notch voice mixed with a dollop of James Brown theatrics. It’s one of the most relentlessly upbeat numbers on Compass and contributes a great deal to the album’s overall appeal.
“Ordinary Love”, at first, explores what seems like arch-natural territory for Gains to inhabit, but he will confound first time listeners with the song’s relatively unexpected second half when other approaches make their importance felt. He goes down a different path with the track “Back to You” and its orchestrated vocal arrangement is one of the highlights for the album as a whole. The massed guitars are impressive, as well, despite their acoustic sound. This is a track very much informed by the recent spate of post-folk alternative rock styled songs but sounds quite convincing. The blues comes through loud and clear with the song “Miracle” and its steady progression from swampy, spartan guitar melodies and vocals in the beginning to a more full throated treatment near the song’s end is one of the album’s most satisfying rides. The finale “Mexico” takes Gains back into jazz and stylized R&B for another of the album’s longer tunes, but it feels like it deserves its status as a closer, arguably, more than any other number on the release. Conor Gains’ Compass is the good stuff that comes out already surrounded by an unmistakable whiff of posterity; it’s truly a release you can likely revisit for years to come and never tire of.