Five Times August

Life as a Song

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One irony in the career of one-man band Brad Skistimas, aka Five Times August, is that, even though he is the epitome of the early 21st century independent artist, issuing his own recordings without benefit of a record label, he nevertheless recognizes at least one of the laws of the conventional record business, which is, it's good to keep things in the pipeline. It's only been 19 months since the last FTA album, 2008's Brighter Side, and Life as a Song isn't really a new album, at least in the sense of presenting all-new material. Rather, it is a collection of nine re-recordings of songs from FTA's first two albums, plus three new songs. But then, maybe making such an album really is an expression of independence. Many artists, as their careers go on, wish they could go back and redo their early records, thinking they can improve upon them. When an artist is his own record label, there's nothing to stop him. In Skistimas' case, there's even a good reason to do so, because another irony of his career is that, although "independent," when it comes to popular music or film, tends to connote something edgy or risky, FTA's music is the opposite: potentially mainstream, middle-of-the-road pop/rock, full of catchy melodies and ingratiatingly romantic lyrics. Funnily enough, FTA recalls the sound of some other outfits with the word "five" in their names, such as Maroon 5 and Five for Fighting. (The sound is even similar to the Ben Folds Five, except that, where Folds has his tongue in his cheek most of the time, Skistimas is always achingly sincere.) When FTA revs up a bit for a more rocking sound, it approaches 3 Doors Down territory, although things never really get quite that aggressive. But since the music is intended to be sugary, it is all the more appropriate that Skistimas should seize the opportunity of needing to create some new product to expand the spare arrangements of his earlier recordings, adding strings (or string-like sounds, anyway) and making everything more lush. The new numbers, "January Song," "Break," and "Love the Way," are more of the same; in the last, Skistimas earnestly sings, "I love the way you love the way I love you." That's the kind of sentiment that is going to keep the women-oriented cable networks Oxygen and Lifetime coming back for more to license FTA songs for their shows.