Grizzled folkie Richard Buckner evokes more dark snapshots of life and the intricacies of relationships on his fifth release, Impasse. Similar in feel and texture to his previous releases, Impasse winds around the same moody corners, experimenting with the intimacy of the best singer/songwriters and the quirky fuzz and crunch of indie rock. The spirits of frequent collaborators Joey Burns and John Convertino linger large over this project, and after an initial listen it is surprising to find out that Buckner played all of the instruments this time around (with the exception of the drums, performed expertly by his wife, artist Penny Jo Buckner). Mellotron hums and vibraphone chimes back the singer's familiar growl and warm, nylon-stringed guitar, with textures floating past like faded slides bought from a garage sale. Landing somewhere between Since's driving experimentation and the melancholy drones of Devotion + Doubt, the album fits squarely into Buckner's catalog, but may not push too far in either direction. While Since emphasized Buckner's grit with rocked-out guitar passages and wild sonic abandon and Devotion + Doubt pushed him nearly over the edge in its soul-crushing depression and beautifully haunting themes of loss and heartbreak, Impasse finds the author seemingly more comfortable with the cards in his hand. The tension between musicians on Since and the tensions between Buckner and himself on Devotion + Doubt are subtly missing on Impasse, but this wiser and gentler Richard Buckner seems to be embracing a more even keel. With no soul-baring a cappella tracks and no glitchy rave-ups, the album seems to be painted with the same brush from start to finish, which certainly makes for a more even listen, but there is something about the contrast in his previous works that is missing here. Listening to just the first few seconds of each track, there is a discomforting similarity in the way each song starts, almost as if Buckner has worked himself into a familiar pattern and is happy working within it time and time again. Still, every song on the album is fantastic -- starkly beautiful and unusually comforting. While this collection of songs is not Buckner's best, it still is head and shoulders above 99 percent of the angst-fueled singer\songwriters out there.
AllMusic Review by Zac Johnson