Gus Dapperton

Where Polly People Go to Read

(LP - Gus Dapperton #GUSD 001LP)

Review by

Over the course of two EPs and a handful of singles, bedroom pop crooner Gus Dapperton turned in a wobbly hybrid of synth-heavy indie and nostalgia-drenched soulful pop. A gifted singer, Dapperton's voice wrapped expressively around hooks as his instrumentals sounded meticulously produced to sound cheap and lo-fi, with detuned Casio synths and vintage drum machines dialed into to late-'80s radio R&B settings. While pleasant and light, songs could sound sometimes too invested in their own chill atmospheres, calculated to exacting lo-fi specifications and falling short of the artistic vision or emotional content they suggested. With debut full-length effort Where Polly People Go to Read, Dapperton's carefully constructed personality and production sense don't branch out much from where they were on earlier recordings, but he does come through with some of his more undeniably catchy tracks. Chorus-heavy acoustic guitars and lilting sophisti-pop vocals glide in on "My Favorite Fish," a tune collaging together Frank Ocean's insular vocal fragility and the neon synth arrangements of Mac DeMarco or Tame Impala. It's a dynamic and hooky song, with an arrangement that stacks its various sticky elements as it builds. A similar approach makes "Fill Up Anthem" immediately captivating. Dapperton's love of nostalgic lite funk shows up in the song's restrained bass groove and static drum machine programming. Only the occasional growled lyric and a dramatically warped synth sound on the chorus take the song out of complete inoffensive background music status, adding some uneasiness to the mix. The would-be new jack swing rhythm of "World Class Cinema" is another standout, melding all the best elements of his formula for a tightly arranged and slowly building pop construction. Much of the album, however, blurs into a less interesting sameness. In its best articulation, Dapperton's sound lands with charm and musicality. When it falls short, the interesting character of vintage drum machines and nostalgic synth tones feels plastic and cloying. "Nomadicon" sounds like a karaoke-level Michael Jackson impersonation, and more rock-minded instrumentation on songs like "Sockboy" feels empty. Dapperton's lyrics are often vague or nonsensical, communicating a sense of detached whimsy that's grating after two or three songs. Not without some great tracks, Where Polly People Go to Read can come off as insincere at times, like a manicured product posing as the work of an enigmatic pop outsider.