Gomez have always been a hard group to pigeonhole, their songs falling somewhere in the vicinity of British folk, pop, contemporary blues, and jam band rock & roll. Shapes & Shadows, the first solo release by bandmember Ben Ottewell, takes a straighter approach. Although recorded in Los Angeles, it’s a rainy-day folk album anchored in Ottewell’s acoustic guitar, with occasional swells of strings and synths that conjure up images of the English coast. There’s a controlled intimacy to the album; even when “Lightbulbs” builds up to a crescendo, it’s barely enough sound to fill one’s headphones, much less the concert halls that Gomez routinely play. Ottewell makes the most of that seclusion, and Shapes & Shadows draws parallels to Nick Drake and early David Gray at its most bare-boned. Despite being the most recognizable voice in Gomez, though, Ottewell always shared frontman duties with his bandmates, and hearing his gauzy tenor on nine consecutive songs tends to bring some of its shortcomings to the forefront. When he surrounds himself with other players, though, these songs come alive, from the rootsy swagger of “Blackbird” to the eccentric chamber pop of “Lightbulbs,” which could double as an Ed Harcourt outtake. Ottewell isn’t the first Gomez bandmate to pursue interests outside the band, but Shapes & Shadows is the most accessible solo effort to appear from that group.
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AllMusic Review by Andrew Leahey