Belle Da Gama

Garden Abstract

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The belle du jour here is one Bradley Skaught, a man who knows his pop and who knows who to make a record with. A San Francisco area singer/songwriter, Skaught also knows the ropes as a drummer of Yuji Oniki's band, and Oniki returns the favor here with backing vocals and keyboards on half the tracks. But he isn't alone. The credits also turn up significant contributions from Loud Family's Scott Miller on two songs, and the rhythm section is the tandem of drummer Jordan Dalrymple of Call & Response and bassist Yuki Kasuya from Luminar. Yet the focus is very much on Skaught and the songs he composes. His voice sounds a lot like Velvet Crush's Paul Chastain, and his edgy, throaty singing is the star of his first LP. Helped by Adam Symons and Stickman's bright, tasteful co-production, one first notices the songs that are the most winsome -- just him and an acoustic and a simple tune, such as "If This Is Where Railways End," "Fault Hours," and the closing, organ-tweaked "Steadfast & Clear." The chords on these are reminiscent of Carole King or the better songs of Bread. But this is just one side of the LP. Not content with the pop-folky approach, the LP careens through a trail mix of full-band twisted indie-garage-pop that's not far from Tommy Keene and Paul Westerberg. Garden Abstract's two best songs, "CA Redemption Value" and the harmonies-driven "Unfortunate Wine," are particularly strong tracks in this vein, with the same whomp and whack of a good Matthew Sweet song. Skaught's apparently only played a couple of shows as Belle da Gama; he's as hidden as Salman Rushdie, whose novel The Moor's Last Sigh provided the name. May this change, soon.

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