Culture Reject

Culture Reject

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At first blush, Michael O'Connell (the driving force behind Culture Reject) doesn't seem like the kind of guy you'd describe in terms like "inspirational," "optimistic," or "uplifting." His gravelly, world-worn voice, something like a cross between Everlast's wry, stoned grit and Devendra Banhart's loopy, octave-defying croon, is eminently dead-pan -- and when it isn't dead-pan it's pained, or lonesome, or darkly humorous. But uplifting he is, and tender, too, and Culture Reject's self-titled debut offers up a promising and genuinely affecting spin. This disc is a kind of chameleon act, with O'Connell trying on various stylistic hats. He has his Animal Collective hat, evidenced by the scribbly, jumpy experimentalism of "Museums." He has his Sufjan Stevens hat, evidenced by the hand-clappy, multi-instrumental sweetness of "Oh Remain" and "Blueprint." And he has his Devendra Banhart hat, evidenced by the languid, earthy Latin influences evident throughout most of the album, particularly on tracks like "Overflow" and "Hong Kong Beach, Pt. 1." The album is, in other words, a pastiche of various influences, but they all effortlessly blend together into a cohesive whole. You could say that Culture Reject is, in effect, a kind of expert balancing act, and it isn't just limited to its musical influences. The intelligence and buoyancy of O'Connell's multi-instrumental arrangements offer an optimistic contrast and balance to his otherwise dark and moody lyrics -- and they are moody; "Inside the Cinema," for all its bouncy hand-claps, is in its way a kind of stoic, urban prayer ("Come, culture reject. Expect respect. You protect what is good."). Clocking in at just over half an hour, Culture Reject is an awfully brief introduction to O'Connell, but it's a memorable one -- if only because he can successfully pull off sounding both like a street-smart folk singer and sweet-smart indie popper in the span of a single track.

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