London-based singer-songwriter Ed Harcourt describes Russian Roulette as a "stop-gap" before he puts the finishing touches on his future fifth full-length album.
'Stop-gap' is to be a relatively blasé word since Harcourt recorded his latest EP over the course of a few days as early demos. With the help of producer Dave Lynch, Harcourt was able to add drums and overdubs within a day and a weekend and expressed that "it was a really nice experience — very easygoing" (press release).
He declares that Lynch is "a miracle worker," but he himself should take some credit since Russian Roulette is a pleasant follow-up to his 2006 album The Beautiful Life. The EP's title seems weird, but is actually oddly appropriate for an artist whose music bounces between the oft-trodden path of moodiness and a more upbeat and positive demeanor.
Harcourt makes no apologies since "it's my artistic prerogative to merge reality and fantasy as I see fit and write about whatever I want." This liberty is what created the record's best track "Caterpillar" that he wrote for his daughter Roxy after she was born, which not surprisingly is also his favorite on Roulette. He utilizes that loving energy in the up-tempo alt-country number "Creep Out Of The Woodwork" before reversing course with the piano ballad "Girl With The One Track Mind."
This hadn't happened when I listened to his earlier works, but I had a hard time understanding Harcourt on Roulette. His quasi-rapsy voice — although nowhere near Tom Waits territory — made softer songs like the low-key title track or more melodic "Sour Milk, Motheaten Silk" at times incomprehensible.
The gruff is part of Harcourt's charm, a peculiar impression of mysteriousness despite his candid nature. The potential is there, but Russian Roulette is merely a lovely precursor to something bigger since the six songs highlight the EP's undersized ambitions without complete satisfaction.