While listening to Patrick Watson‘s newest album, Adventures In Your Own Backyard, I thought something sounded familiar. Snippets of songs were reminding me of the music from a Spaghetti Western movie – the sub-genre of 1960s Italian-produced western films with their own distinctive musical style. Lo and behold, reading Watson’s statement on the album on his website, he lists Ennio Morricone, king of the Spaghetti Western score as an influence for the album.
But if that makes you think this album will make you want to saddle up your horse and dig up some gold, you’re wrong. Watson’s tributes to Morricone are subtle. Here and there a touch of horn section brings the impression of what we’ve come to expect from a movie set in the old west, added as a seamless bonus to Watson’s dreamy style. Take, for example, the trumpet solo about two thirds of the way into “Lighthouse.” Or the title track, which features more of that same horn sound, with an added backbeat that also echos the genre. Or “The Things You Do,” an instrumental track with a spooky and melancholy feel sounds like it should be part of a movie score, any movie with the right mood, really.
What Watson and his Montreal-based band manage to do, like the best movie soundtracks, is capture a sense of mood and space through sound. Sure, there’s no screen to watch here, but the instrumental parts of the songs, combined with Watson’s lyrics paint distinct scenes that anyone half-listening would be hard pressed not to imagine.
The first half of the album provides a bit more story line with its songs than the second, which becomes more instrumental and ethereal as it goes. Stories of being in a room full of strangers (“Quiet Crowd,” which Watson describes as a scene from a silent, crowded elevator) and new couples in love (the adorably upbeat duet “Into Giants”) build up before the album gradually and beautifully tapers off.
The instrumentation of the album is incredibly well-balanced. At a time when many bands are trying to mimic an orchestral sound and cram as many instruments in as possible, Watson and crew keep it simple and subtle. His piano parts are lovely and delicate and mix perfectly with the other instruments, but could still stand as pieces on their own. Guitars also take on a starring role, but without being overbearing. And of course the Morricone-inspired horns pop in to add flavor without making anybody want to don suprs and a stetson.
Every element of Adventures In Your Own Backyard has been thoughtfully arranged, but not over-thought. There’s a serenity and poise here that’s not often seen in pop albums. It’s the kind of album I’d put on at home on a quiet, rainy day or anytime I want to escape to the landscapes in someone else’s head.