Before starting his quartet, Patrick Watson explored a variety of musical forms, from rock to electronica, and though Close to Paradise is clean indie pop, these other influences show up in the album frequently. A Coldplay for the hipster crowd (that's X&Y-era Coldplay, not Parachutes Coldplay), Watson and his band write lush, ethereal, spacey melodies that swell into Jeff Buckley-esque symphonies or relax into measured shoegazer riffs; there are hints of ambient too, the way everything tends to swirl and coalesce, the occasional subtle drum programming, the stuttering loops, but there's also chamber pop in the string arrangements and piano arpeggios and even, at times, a tendency toward cabaret. But despite all these things happening, the album never comes across as busy or overwhelming. In part this is thanks to the Canadian folk influence -- the moan of the lap steel, the flitting banjo -- that sweeps over everything like a prairie wind, Neil Young allusions and all, grounding the pieces in simple chord changes or wisping lines, but it's also very much because of guitarist Simon Angell (from Watson's high school ska band Gangster Politics), who adds his lightly distorted electric guitar at just the right moments, just when the dreamy piano seems to be moving too far outward into unstructured territory. In "Drifters," for example, Watson's trippy vocals echo off one another, but before it becomes too dancey, Angell comes in with strong, classical chords, pulling the piece toward something lush and orchestrated like what the Dears, rather than BT, might do. With "Slip into Your Skin" he uses his instrument to different effect, waiting until the song is more than halfway done before he plays his slow but frantic-sounding riff; it's sparse but it's deliberate and necessary, short lines of dialogue that bring the plot together with the characters and the setting. In fact, Close to Paradise plays like a film soundtrack more than anything else, from the Cirque du Soleil vamping of "Weight of the World" to the Peter Pan-esque twinkling of "Daydreamer," backing the story of some sunken-shouldered traveler as he walks, or floats, across the plains. Entrancing, to say the least.
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AllMusic Review by Marisa Brown