On his solo debut, Enemy Swimmer, Adam Svec's spritely melodies and clever songwriting drove the album's youthful sense of self-discovery. But while those songs were playful and endearing, they also at times teetered on preciousness and self-pity. With his follow-up, Rarefaction, the Glad Version singer tackles more subdued subject matter with songs about young adults looking for stability and direction in their lives. While it may lack its predecessor's innocence, the new album also sheds much of its accompanying naiveté, finding Svec moving beyond his emo trappings to develop a stronger voice as an artist and storyteller.
Svec's lyrics remain central to his music and prove every bit as sensitive and sharp as on his previous work. This is no more apparent than with the wordplay of "Broken Strings," where an intricate musical metaphor is used for a failing relationship. More frequently, however, it is Svec's attention to detail and ability to create a sense of place that make his writing effective. Whether with the faraway skyscrapers in "Minnesota Pride" or references to south Minneapolis in January in "Calmer Man," the specificity of the characters' conflicts, and their desire to react maturely, lend those struggles a powerful authenticity.
Rarefaction also benefits from its emphasis on layered, full-band arrangements. Svec abandons simple acoustic accompaniments to take up an electric guitar and, much like the harmonies provided by Karen Salter, the instrument's warm, liquid tones blend perfectly with his rich vocal range. The most successful example of this new approach comes when a waltzing Wurlitzer and accordion build a subtle polka atmosphere on "Wolves in Milwaukee." When the music gets stripped down for "Valley of Anything," the contrast is striking, but also reinforces the idea that the fuller formats suit these songs best.
"Scarecrow" ends the album on a note of paranoia and even resignation, but it's tempered by the narrator's recognition that his fears are largely self-inflicted. In a similar fashion of careful self-assessment, Rarefaction works through heartache and doubt to emerge more assured on the other end. It may not be as immediately satisfying as Enemy Swimmer, but Rarefaction is every bit as rewarding in the long run. —Jeff Gage
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