40:00 min • Dramatico • May 27, 2013
Ben Fletcher’s self-assured debut is based around a series of demo recordings the Australian singer songwriter recorded in ‘stolen’ studio time, and in his bathroom, written whilst on tour with fellow singer and label-mate Sarah Blasko. The ten songs are a successful blend of guitar-based pop and rock infused folk, with Fletcher’s hoarse yet gentle vocals suggesting the familiar musical stylings of the Mumfords et al, but with greater sensitivity, feeling and authenticity.
Playing virtually all the instruments on the album, Fletcher surrounds his tender lyrics with twinkling pianos, a robust rhythm section and glittering guitars. The songs are enigmatic, offering glimpses of poetic imagery without resorting to cliché. On ‘Simple Life’, Blasko duets with Fletcher to great effect – her voice a perfect counterpoint to his, with the two singers playing cat and mouse between them on each phrase. If this is what Fletcher can produce by polishing up his ‘demos’, it would be interesting to see what he might do with a big budget, but it is perhaps the limitations imposed on the recordings and his ‘one man band’ aesthetic that has made the album such an impressive and focused collection. Standout tracks are ‘Strangers Sleeping In The Same Bed’ and the album opener ‘It’s Coming For Us’, which can’t help but bring to mind Gotye’s ‘Somebody That I Used To Know’ with its guitars and glockenspiels. This is not an album for listeners looking for stadium anthems by any stretch, but if you enjoy moody, atmospheric soundscapes to drown in, Upon Ayr will prove immensely satisfying.
For a glimpse into Fletcher’s psyche, you could do no better than to watch the video for his song ‘Open Up’ on Vimeo, where he recorded a second from his life every day for seven months. He’s clearly a man who gets about, with the video showing lots of travel and larking around with friends as well as work on his music. There’s even a brief shot of the unmistakable Lorraine Bowen, which perhaps hints at a more silly side to his nature. I hoped her appearance in the video might be a sign that the rather handsome Fletcher might bat for our team, but apparently he has a ‘girlfriend/”not wife’’ in real life. Despite former obsessions with Nirvana and Radiohead, he still classes Kate Bush as one of his major musical heroes (and despite my own well-known personal dislike of Bush) he certainly has a sensibility and strong aesthetic that would resonate with gay listeners. The ‘Open Up’ video sums up what works well for this album – it could literally be the soundtrack to many peoples lives, as the songs are atmospheric, meaningful and varied. Hopefully Fletcher’s record label won’t trade in his hard work to sell this sound to advertising companies or too many TV shows as although he deserves such high profile exposure and it would be easy to imagine many of his songs working in that context, his music is currently a secret that would be best kept to a faithful few.