Chris Garneau – Music For Tourists

Chris Garneau
Music For Tourists

Chris Garneau’s debut album opens with sparse cello pizzicato in “Castle Time.” The piano soon enters to reinforce the waltz beat under the soft, timid vocals of Garneau. After a few verses, cellist Ben Kallo picks up his bow again to weave beautiful layers throughout the piano and voice. A chorus joins in halfway through and the soft tone raises a notch as the music follows and Kallo digs his bow deeper in the strings for a quiet intensity. The song sets the mellow tone for the following thirteen tracks, including the painfully beautiful rendition of the hidden Elliot Smith cover “Between the Bars” featuring only Garneau’s vocals over a waltzing piano.

The songs of Music For Tourists are often backed by little more than a piano and are full of intelligent lyrics. At various points he is joined by Kallo’s sadly beautiful strings or Saul Simon-MacWilliams on bass and melodica as well as various friends contributing other sounds like the horns in “Saturday”. With each listen my opinion changes with my mood as to what the standout tracks are but at this particular moment I enjoy the intimacy of “Saturday”, the stark sadness of “Between The Bars” and the honesty of “We Don’t Try”.

I only have two complaints with this album and one is less a complaint as it is just an unfortunate fact for this genre. With an album filled with heart-string tugs, lonely ballads and emotional tendencies it can be difficult to tuck in a decent amount of mood shifts to keep the listener actively engaged. Unfortunately for this artist, while Music For Tourists is surely a good listen from beginning to end, it can be hard to pay attention in one sitting. Taken a few at a time, the songs are nothing short of emotionally moving and hauntingly beautiful. To really get the most out of the album try listening through headphones in a setting where there is nothing to do but concentrate on the music, like taking the bus to work or sitting in the dark with your ipod when the power goes out.

The other complaint I have is really a matter of artistic growth and comfort. It’s obvious that Garneau is a good songwriter and can make a heart-wrenching ballad as good as some who have been doing it for decades, but his vocal intensity could use work. If you look at the debut from Architecture in Helsinki, the vocals are timid and even the music is holding back. But in their sophomore release they let it all out with bursting vocals and off the wall instruments and their confidence is at an all time high. I wonder what would happen if Garneau let go a little? Sure, he doesn’t need to experiment to quite the extend of the Australian super group, but testing the limits of his vocal possibilities could add some much-needed interest and diversity to the album. With minor outbursts, at least relative to the rest of the album, like that towards the end of “First Place” just make me wonder what he’s capable of if he just pushed himself a little and stopped trying to be so safe.

With a voice similar to that of a young Damien Rice there is little doubt that Chris Garneau has a promising debut on his hands. His songs are painfully beautiful lullabys that can encourage you to connect with old friends, hug a loved one or contemplate matters that may lie in those dusty corners of your mind that you don’t often visit. Each song has a quiet beauty that, on its own, is very strong. When you listen to Music For Tourists, don’t just hit play and expect to go about your business and absorb all of the beauty the album has to offer. Put away your distractions, take a break from the day, get out the headphones and let Chris Garneau serenade you as if he was sitting right in front of you.