Calgary, Alberta-based Tod Hughes’ latest effort is the nine-track Time Slow Down, a quirky collection of numbers that balance out important and sometimes heavy topics in a melodically light way. There is something so raw and authentic about it that one can’t help but feel Hughes is a friend by the end of the final tune. And not just any friend – the one whose realistic optimism you want to bottle up and sniff all the time to help you face the darkest of days.
Released early last month, a strong thread of hope is weaved through stories centered on typical life experiences such as love, hurt, happiness, fear, disappointment, and just plain fun. The songs range from a little dark at times to tongue-in-cheek humorous. I feel that this album is particularly powerful because it reflects Hughes’ attitude towards his community, both local and international. The artist is active not only in the local music scene, but also in its business and charity scenes. Furthermore, many of his concerts are organised solely to benefit charity, with proceeds going to such causes as education in developing countries, micro-finance, and the recent refugee crisis in Syria.
This realistic optimism can be felt throughout the set. A certain quirkiness influences all of the songs which all fit a signature that becomes quite familiar by the end of the record’s run. Strings and drums of all sorts drive the various melodies; the vocals remain within a middle range; the melodies themselves remain easily digestible, and the musicianship is solid. There is a horn here, a violin there, and vocal harmonies occur, with small and almost infinitesimal twists that don’t change the nature of the songs.
The upbeat “Drinking Coffee in a Hipster Place”, for example, has a unique tongue-in-cheek silliness to it and features horns; it also is unique in that Hughes doesn’t attack hipsters or their coffee shops – he just takes notes of how he feels when he visits such places. “Is It Really Fair?” is different in its slight rock feel, implied by how the drums and the guitar take the lead and how the vocals take on a certain harshness as Hughes encourages listeners to think about overcoming injustice rather than be crushed by it.
Other noticeable little touches include the subtle female vocal harmonies in the love story that is “Real You and Me”—where youthful cheekiness and joy abound—and the delicate violin playing on “Worth Waiting For”.
Some might consider this making the album homogeneous, but others might insist that it is conducive to the creation of a safe zone of sorts in which anything can be discussed. This would fit the feeling one gets that each song seems almost like a journal entry on something Hughes noticed during the course of the day or a deep thought he had, which makes them quite approachable.
All these topics are relatively serious in one way or another and yet remain built on sounds that have fun, upbeat, or sunny twists to some or all of them. “Time Slow Down”, for example, could have been such a melancholic track about good times that have passed, but instead it is an uptempo, cheerful song that calls for people to slow things down in the future so that they don’t continue missing out on things. If Hughes was young, one could think that youthful innocence is what makes his work so delightfully optimistic. But he has a good amount of experience that makes these songs’ optimism all the more inspiring: It is there despite whatever might have happened.
Other noteworthy moments include the almost danceable “One of a Kind”, where the vocals are delivered in a way that imply intimacy, wrapping the person being sung about in an extra layer of mystery; the very folksy, even for such an album, “Nothing Too Obscure”, a cozy and intimate number that makes nothing seem too dark to deal with with optimism; and the toe-tapping and cutely romantic “Coming Home to You”.
Closing the album is the apt “Darkness That Cries”, a toned down number that is a little haunting because of the female harmonies. It comes as a soulful acknowledgment of sorts that life is dark at times but that there is always space for optimism. Tracks are available for streaming on SoundCloud. More information is available on his official website. Say hi to him on Twitter.
Pictures provided by Independent Music Promotions.