The first musical outing to be issued under his birth name (he has been releasing novels as Wesley Stace since 2005), the artist formerly known as John Wesley Harding's eleventh long-player certainly sounds familiar, especially to anyone who has followed his trajectory from fiery yet disarmingly charismatic British troubadour in the vein of Robyn Hitchcock, Nick Lowe, and Billy Bragg to well-respected, Connecticut-based literary figure. Stace has always had a gift for conjuring up colorful characters, but it would seem that his newfound success as a fiction writer has absorbed a great many of his alter egos, leaving behind what is essentially his first collection of songs to focus solely on the trials and tribulations of their creator. At 16 tracks, the aptly named and deeply personal Self-Titled feels a little bit like a coming out party that turned into a notebook emptying free-for-all. However, his gift for erudite gab is certainly on display here, as there are some winning songs like "The Dealer's Daughter" and "Excalibur" to add to the Stace/Harding canon, and when those words are paired with a melody as lovely as the one that propels the gorgeous "Stare at the Sun," one of two tracks, along with the less musically affecting "When I Knew," that were co-written with ex-Fiery Furnaces' vocalist Eleanor Friedberger, the results can be transcendent, but Stace's evocative prose too often becomes mired in midtempo drudgery and recycled chord changes, both of which would be less apparent had he chosen brevity over prolificacy.
by James Christopher Monger