The Unstudied Sea
New York-based singer-songwriter Frank Bango and lyricist Richy Vesecky have put together a terrific, unassuming record of classic pop. Bango sings achingly pretty, keenly observed songs in a somewhat nasal, Elvis Costello-like voice. “A Clear Eye for Daisy” may be one of the best songs you hear this year. “Song dust settles in a sympathetic ear,” he sings against an intricate acoustic guitar backing. And “Museums” has two or three chords that are guaranteed to break your heart.
Bango tosses in some Beatle-esque harmonies on “Are You Now or Have You Ever Been.” But although he often wears his influences on his sleeve, Bango manages to avoid sounding phony retro and transcends inspired pastiche to create something much more affecting. He doesn’t throw in a bunch of loud guitars in an attempt to get on modern rock radio as a lot of power pop artists tend to do.
Though he sounds like Costello, Bango lacks the acerbic wit. Which isn’t to say that he isn’t funny. On “The Ugly Version” he deadpans: “You once told me that/ You couldn’t live without me/But now I can’t help noticing/ That you’re still breathing.” This song’s bridge section alone has more melody than 98 percent of the crap on the radio these days.
As for the record’s shortcomings, Bango occasionally goes overboard with his arrangements. The lo-fi “Leaving the Scene of an Accident” is a little too busy for its own good. The squeaky toy used on “Always Looking Up” is a tad irritating. Also, Bango’s limited voice isn’t the ideal instrument to pull off the twists and turns in songs like the set-concluding “Does the Bitter Moon Really Care About How Dark It Gets,” a dramatic piano ballad that somebody like Neil Finn could knock out of the park.
Still, The Unstudied Sea is a consistently fresh and surprising disc full of sweet, gentle musings from a very talented songwriter.