Hand Built by Robots
First Appeared in The Music Box, May 2008, Volume 15, #5
Written by John Metzger
Tue May 13, 2008, 06:30 AM CDT
Newton Faulkner’s debut Hand Built by Robots is a ridiculously perplexing affair. On the one hand, there are quite a few moments throughout the set when it seems as if he has nothing more to offer than another batch of nondescript, folk-pop tunes along the lines of James Morrison and Jack Johnson. On the other hand, Faulkner throws enough twists and turns into the mix to keep listeners from slipping completely into a somnambulant stupor. As it might be expected, the end result of Faulkner’s efforts provides an uneven ride, one that is too bland to praise but too enigmatic to dismiss. In other words, it’s a middle-of-the-road affair with an intriguing twist.
Without a doubt, Hand Built by Robots was designed specifically to reach the widest possible audience. Its weakest tracks — that is, those most likely to find homes on commercial radio and network television — have been placed almost entirely at the top of the album’s running order. Nevertheless, this tactic cleverly is countered by the 30-second instrumental interlude — the aptly titled Intro — that opens the set. Faulkner’s fluid, rhythmic guitar patterns — think Pat Metheny or Leo Kottke — aren’t necessarily new, but they are impressive. Essentially, his wordless vignette provides proof that he has more talent than otherwise would be apparent at the outset of the endeavor, and it offers the sort of encouragement that is necessary for sticking around after the set’s first few cuts.
For the record, when they are stripped to their barest essence, none of Faulkner’s actual songs prove to be anything more than passable diversions. As a result, a trek through Hand Built by Robots from start to finish can be a frustrating experience. Although he might have tried hard to find his own voice, Faulkner too often settles for lyrical clichés, and his melodies occasionally fall on the wrong side of the line that separates irresistible from annoying (To the Light and Dream Catch Me). Likewise, his cover of Massive Attack’s Teardrop is a weak imitation of the version that Jose Gonzalez offered on In Our Nature.
Still, Hand Built by Robots stubbornly refuses to drift quietly into the background. When he sings, Faulkner combines the emotional angst of Eddie Vedder, the tenderness of Donovan, and the soul-and-blues inflections of The Guess Who’s Burton Cummings, which allows him to make some of his lesser turns-of-phrase a little easier to stomach. There is, after all, something to be said for the gut feeling of a performance. Regardless, the guitar interludes that are scattered throughout Hand Built by Robots ultimately keep the outing afloat. Time and again, they surface whenever they are needed most, and they effectively refocus attention away from Faulkner’s deficiencies.
To his credit, Faulkner seems to want to aim high. There’s no other way to explain some of Hand Built by Robots’ more quirky aspects. When he pulls the trigger, though, he too frequently chooses to shoot at a lower target. It could be a confidence issue — his lyrics are full of self-deprecation — or it could just be his accountant whispering in his ear. In the end, Hand Built by Robots is a far cry from a perfect debut. Yet, it simultaneously is sturdy enough to warrant a second act. If he ever gets all of the pieces into place, Faulkner could be dangerous. As it currently stands, however, he’s just a kid with a guitar singing songs that are fairly innocuous. ½
Of Further Interest...
Hand Built by Robots is available from Barnes & Noble.
To order, Click Here!
1 Star: Pitiful
2 Stars: Listenable
3 Stars: Respectable
4 Stars: Excellent
5 Stars: Can't Live Without It!!
Copyright © 2008 The Music Box