Possessed of a gentle and compelling voice, Holcombe Waller is the kind of singer who seems both well suited to his time and context, with an indie rock focus on gentility and delicacy, and an increasing ability to make his own mark in it. Into the Dark Unknown, drawing on a series of theatrical presentations performed and recorded over a couple of years before the album's 2011 appearance, helps underscore this, and the stated ambition of those presentations don't overshadow the resultant audio release. There's an immediate directness and a clarity to his singing that appeal, infusing the opening "Atlas" and its progression of acoustic-into-electric guitar plus strings with both urgency and a certain serene confidence. This air of understated exploration helps take Waller and his work beyond singer/songwriter basics; there's as much immediate joy in the possibilities of performance as there is in the songs themselves, something the live recording factor further accentuates. Stand-out examples include "Risk of Change," with its sudden bursts of multi-tracked singing, and "About Time," with its increasing drum punch. Waller's own playing abilities are more than fine -- consider the swift fingerpicking on "The Unicorn," matched with a galloping piano and Waller's increasingly yearning vocals building to a remarkable climax -- but the strongest impact comes via the less stark moments, where everything coalesces into a huge moment or two. "Qu'Appelle Valley, Saskatchewan" thunders at the start and contains some remarkable chanting and calls, while the squirrelly electronics, distant handclaps, and percussion and soft strings of "Hardliners" might be the best on the album, an elegant combination of styles topped off by one of his strongest vocals, increasingly bigger and triumphal much like the arrangement. Into the Dark Unknown may be a slightly melodramatic title but in the end, Waller knows how to play to its strengths as well as to his.
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AllMusic Review by Ned Raggett