Drive Til Morning – S/T

“You’re at the center of my world, at the center of my universe. Will you stand there with me?” asks Francis Garcia of Drive Til Morning on “At Center of the Universe.” Unfortunately, at the center of Garcia’s universe wait clashing guitars and endless, repetitive arpeggio. Garcia is a veteran of rock bands (including Pop Unknown) who has set about to make a solo record of the sensitive songwriter variety. His guitar playing, which is the highlighted element of this quiet record, works its way in and out of the tempo on these songs, for which time signature seems to be a mere suggestion. Other background instruments, such as pedal steel and violins, float underneath the melodies but aren’t allowed to feature or add much other than background music.
Each song is built around a fingerpicked melody that varies only slightly song to song, making the tracks blend together. In addition, you could probably shuffle the lyrics around like a set of magnetic poetry, reorder them completely, and the album would neither gain nor lose anything. Garcia fearlessly runs headlong into cliché after cliché. “Let the storm brew strong tonight and bring you home before twilight,” he sings on “Minutes Turn to Miles.” In “By Scenic Highway” (this record is full of highways that “go on for ages”), he gives an awkward nod to Bruce with the line, “Clouds follow the car, like we’re fugitives on the run.”
What makes singer-songwriter albums work when they work is the quality of the songs stripped of a band’s pyrotechnics or stylization. The song itself has to compel the listener. Garcia rarely writes a bridge into his songs, relying instead on a two- or three-chord pattern to carry the songs. And the muddiness of the production does little to help all this.
The strongest track is “Stompers.” It has a country-ish swing to it with its endearing banjo and slide guitar parts, and it possibly provides the album’s only recognizable hook. Still, on this song too one metaphor gives way to the next without coherence. Garcia barrels through his ideas one after the other, from “making my bed” to getting “my head above water” from being “six feet under” to the “mileage on this rocketship” (?). All of this metaphor mixing only serves to leave the listener confused. Clearly, this is an intentional technique for Garcia. He writes his songs this way for a purpose. Maybe it’s just me, but I fail to see what the purpose might be.
I’m not big on giving out numerical ratings, but Drive Til Morning almost invites it on the album’s closing line, which challenges, “Bring the single digits on. For tonight we’re reaching record lows.”