Charles Allison – Braced in the Beams

Charles Allison
Braced in the Beams

Charles Allison’s general approach to music can be summed up quickly with a few lines taken from a ‘declaration of independence’ on his website: “Music matters and doesn’t need to be validated by big companies. Records made by regular people with an earnest love of rock and roll are the best kind.”
That sort of approach pretty well describes Braced in the Beams, a recording that’s catchy without relying on swift hooks and smooth without being slick and over-produced. The best way to describe Allison’s material here is laid-back, and the best way to categorize his music is … well, to say it references a great many things while really not overtly sounding like any of them.
The first thing to notice about Braced in the Beams is the production values. The record sounds very good, and it’s obvious that a good amount of time and effort were spent mixing the disc. However, the sound is far from slickly and brazenly Pro Tools edited, and as such, a cozy, homey sort of lo-fi log cabin vibe emanates from the songs here. Within any handful of songs, hints of 60s style pop music (a la the Beach Boys and the Zombies), alt-country (a la May/June and the Decemberists), and singer/songwriter (Tim Buckly, Nick Drake) can be pointed out, though as a whole, Allison manages to keep his project from ever sounding blatantly like any of those specific styles.
“You’ve Already Made Me Proud” opens the disc with a swell of acoustic guitars and cello, immediately bringing to mind visions of Badly Drawn Boy (though admittedly, those visions fade quickly). “Historically Speaking” carries more of a ‘dreamy’ vibe, though the track is most noteable for the fact that Allison performs all of the instruments and vocal parts himself. “Glass Street” is an extremely nice, lazy pop song that wouldn’t sound out of place on a Gentleman Caller or American Analog Set disc.
Through the first six tracks, the general vibe of the disc is really laid back, with every style (dreamy, poppy, country) all getting the same rolling, droning musical treatment. With “The Longest Ride,” that begins to change, as this two-minutes garage-pop nugget kicks off a much more eventful second half to this disc. “Arboretum” is a catchy, jangly little country number with some hot slide guitar licks tacked onto the end, while “Ambulatory” rolls out more of that good old dreamy indie-pop sound. “To Taylor, With Twill” manages to mesh the dream-pop sensibility with the alt-country twang and a straight-up rock star guitar solo to land itself as the best listen on the disc, while “Watersign” wraps up the disc with an acoustic country-ish number that turns pop at the choruses.
The one thing the record does have going against it is that the first half of Braced in the Beams gets a bit tedious. Beginning with “The Longest Ride,” the disc ably mixes country-tinged numbers with pop tunes and dream-folk (as well as straight-up folk, courtesy of the extraordinarily pretty acoustic hidden track that pops up about four minutes after “Watersign”). However, it seems that the sequencing could have been better set up to scatter a few of those more happening tracks throughout the entire disc, as it really would have helped break up the monotony of the first half here. The main problem seems to be that the material is all pretty good – it just doesn’t play so well when all of the more melancholy numbers are bunched together to open the disc. Outside of the sequencing issues, however, Charles Allison seems to have the beginnings of a pretty good thing going on here. Campfire music rules, kids – live it, learn it, love it.