Independent Spotlight is a continuing series on Stewart’s blog. The series revolves around independent artists and bands sending their music to Brett to review. No band is promised a positive review, and all music is reviewed honestly in an effort to better independent music.
In this afternoon’s edition of the Independent Spotlight, we shine our gaze onto ‘No Vacancy,’ an EP that Dustin Robert Taylor has recently released. The five track endeavor is concept album-esque in its execution, as Taylor pens songs about his move from a small town in Oklahoma to Seattle. Recorded in Chicago, the collection does a wonderful job of eclectically melding Taylor’s inspirations with tact and prowess. Let’s dig right into it.
As a professional independent music critic, I have no shortage of singer songwriter material on a near-daily basis. It’s the new thing, and has been for four or five years now. Right off the bat, ‘No Vacancy 1’ does set a very positive tone for Taylor’s debut release. It’s very slickly produced and well performed, accenting Taylor’s songwriting with a fine mix and mastering job. The creative decision to back Taylor with a full band doesn’t go unnoticed; it was the right one. There are enough acoustic singer songwriters in the scene right now, having the backing adds some flair to Taylor’s musical persona it would have otherwise lacked.
I like the instrumentation to ‘No Vacancy 1.’ The song’s electric guitar musings, tight percussion, and the splendid acoustic guitar solo that closes out the piece are all in perfect harmony. The lyrics are a bit void of any real expression at this point in the record – It’s a catchy singer songwriter pop-infused effort. That’s an admirable talent; it’s very hard to write a good hook and maintain a pop-like piece with enthusiasm. ‘Meet the Sun,’ however, does a finer job of stretching Taylor’s songwriting wings. His imagery on the album’s second recording is far richer. Also, the instrumental depth of the track is more poignant. I love the soundscapes that rise and fall around Taylor like passing trucks on the latter half of the tune. He dabbles in a few genre stylings to great success here, and it’s the defiant highlight of the opening sections of ‘No Vacancy.’
‘Your Land’ is the album’s most complex effort. Grounded in a hauntingly beautiful electric guitar riff, Taylor’s reverberated vocals dance about the landscape in a stunning fashion. I love the percussion pieces. Hell, they should have mixed them out even heavier, because the deafening effect they have amidst a rather minimalist atmosphere is absolutely phenomenal. The song feels like a turning point for Taylor in many ways; he expands out of singer songwriter, folksy territory and enters an indie rock persona that is immensely appealing.
‘No Vacancy 2’ is the eclipse of this transformation, dramatically outshining the album’s opening tune in every possible way. The sensational drum and guitar banter teased on ‘Your Land’ are back in full form, really exuding a unique sound that differentiates Taylor from his independent genre counterparts. I particularly like how the instrumentation accentuates his vocal style as well. He’s a very soft-spoken personality, and the music embodies him like a wall of sound as he croons through it.
‘Fade Away’ articulately combines all of the sounds on ‘No Vacancy’ into one coherent finale. It has a bit of a Jack Johnson feel to it. (Coincidentally, he also has a song called ‘Fade Away’ that’s quite excellent.) The harmonica sections on ‘Fade Away’ are exceptionally good and a superb device to further the sonic capability of Taylor’s music. I really dig his lyrical strength on the track, too. In many ways, the song closes out the album in a beautiful way because Taylor feels so far from where he began, which he now is. (Both metaphorically and physically.)
‘No Vacancy’ is an effort that grows on you the more you listen to it. I’d argue it gets stronger as it progresses, with the only truly weak track being the opener. ‘Your Land’ and the finale, ‘Fade Away,’ are the highest peaks of the endeavor, but ‘Meet the Sun’ and ‘No Vacancy 2’ offer rewarding insights into Taylor’s talent as well. He’s walking a thin line right now – He doesn’t want to end up in territory where he sounds like every other indie artist doing what he’s doing. If he keeps making music like ‘Your Land,’ that won’t happen. If he makes more music like ‘No Vacancy 1,’ he may wander into some predictable territory. It’s so early in his development, it remains to be seen which path he’ll take.