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Music Review: Noah Georgeson – Find Shelter

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I had an extremely difficult go at writing this review. I was so utterly captivated, held prisoner by its disturbing beauty that I could think of nothing worthy to say about it. As much as I hate to admit it, Find Shelter gave me writer’s block. I listened to it over and over, trying to find the words that would justify my reaction to it. Georgeson has the potential be ranked among the big names of the far-reaching folk genre as it stands today. His music measures up to the likes of Bonnie “Prince” Billy, Devendra Banhart, and Iron and Wine and echoes the work of folk daddy du jour Nick Drake.

I’m not usually accustomed to employing so much hyperbole in my assessment of a folk album by a semi-obscure artist. However, this album took me completely by surprise. At first listen Find Shelter seems like a quirky collection of throwback tunes recorded for the enjoyment of hipster saddies, but additional listens reveal a delicate and enduring record worthy of attentive listening.

Noah Georgeson has spent most of his time behind the scenes, most notably as a producer for Joanna Newsom and Devendra Banhart. Described on his myspace page as “Dean Martin in a coal mine”, with his debut solo album, Find Shelter, Georgeson is carving out a unique identity as that of a folk troubadour. And skilled as he is behind the board, Georgeson proves a competent songwriter, crafting beautiful orchestrations to complement his guitar arpeggios and melancholy vocals.

Musically, Find Shelter is consistent all the way through – many of the songs meld into one another to form a terrific statement as an album. The album was written, scored, arranged, and produced by Georgeson himself between 1999 and 2003 – a rather long time to piecemeal an album together. Nonetheless, Find Shelter is a seamless achievement in elaborate production and moody songcraft.

Georgeson has wisely steered clear of the current folk fascination with psychedelia and roots, both of which are the province of other more distinct artists. Instead he chooses to explore a unique take on folk balladry, which could be explained away as AM standards filtered through a folk sensibility without any of the tiresome irony one might expect (see Rufus Wainwright). Although Georgeson is a touring guitarist for Devendra Banhart, his voice is the featured instrument on Find Shelter, while his guitar is relegated to true accompaniment duty. There isn’t much featured instrumentation or extended guitar play to any of the songs, but there is a pleasant orchestral vibe, which proves Georgeson’s mettle as an arranger and composer.

The echo-chamber-y production and orchestral backing lends the vocals a haunting, old-school crooner flavor. And Georgeson seems to have an affinity for the analog sound that provides so many old records with the elusive warmth that digital recording techniques can’t quite capture. This warmth gives the recording a timeless feel. “Build and Work” is a prime example track where all of these elements come together nicely. Hand claps and myriad weird percussive instruments accompany Georgeson’s claim that: ”Wasting time’s a good time/When it makes you forget the times/that remind you that you have/Oh such precious little time”. I couldn’t agree more.

Many of the songs themselves are lamentations of over-development and progress for the sake of progress, almost betraying a conservative wish to a return to simpler times. The title track bemoans a physical and psychological isolationism perpetrated by this advancement. Georgeson is not suggesting a call to action, so much as explaining the way he, as an artist, sees things. With a touch of regretful melancholy he mourns not just for those things that have come to pass, but also the things that seem to pass us by, such as stopping to admire the world for all its inherent, unmolested beauty. An all too timely statement, considering the nationwide debate over ecological and environmental conservationism and the damage human nature’s bizarre obsession with exploitation and “progress” has brought to nature (human or otherwise) itself.

Perhaps this is why Georgeson sings in “Hand Me, Please, A City” that, “when I think of places/I think of them as people.” Not since Beachwood Sparks’ epic Once We Were Trees has an album so deftly wagered an environmental protest worthy of a serious listen. Much like Trees, this is an album worth listening to in its entirety over and over again, but few individual songs merit repeated listening outside of the album. You’re not going to put many tracks from Find Shelter onto a mix tape.

Find Shelter is strange and thrilling. At times, it plays like the soundtrack to the darkest Disney musical ever made. One could describe it as beat poetry set to deceptively potent music, bearing the mark of Howlin’ Allen Ginsberg in all of his madcap genius. This isn’t an album. It’s a dream, twisting and turning, but never quite leaving the yellow brick road long enough for you to find yourself lost. It’s just unfamiliar enough to be exhilarating, yet oddly comforting. Find Shelter inspires an appreciation as much for the music within as it does for the silence between the notes. Find Shelter could very well be the new Bryter Layter.

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