Ranging from an edgier instrumental quirk to reflective contemplation, Songs for Sore Ears is a gentle treat from Simmons, 14 songs' worth of engaging, understated joys. Given how bedroom recordings have become their own sort of genre over the years, Songs for Sore Ears in some ways doesn't break bounds, but in others, especially in terms of a definite breadth of influence, Simmons proves no slouch. His singing mostly steers away from higher-pitched emotional petulance for slightly deeper but still engagingly wry vocals, suggesting a bit of the casual humor of, say, Edwyn Collins at points without stylistically sounding like him. Admittedly, "Youth Flight (It's All Right)" is a bit weirdly whiny at points, but again it's the casual, soft rush of the music that suits everything best, an attractive blend of guitar and keyboards that's warm in a perfectly low-key way. "Major and Minor" and "Drifting" are among the most conventional songs, a fine balance between vocals and guitar both times. "Speak Easy (In Three Parts)" is an unexpected highlight; if Simmons isn't the next John Fahey per se, his ear for what an acoustic guitar can do on its own comes to the fore, especially with the sudden, beautiful overdub toward the end. The continuing influence of stripped-down synth pop for the tape underground turns up thanks to the percussion bleeps and tones on "Pulling Me out From Above" and "Tonight (Peace Corps Drug Experience)," the latter the merriest and poppiest moment on the tape. Elsewhere hints of blues ("Swamp Jam" in particular has a nice bit of twang to it) mix in with the structured folk arrangements and sudden shifts to non-Western scales. A nice touch is sampling Arthur Lyman's "Dahil Sayo" for the appropriately exotica-themed "Volcano Honeymoon," giving Simmons a chance to pull out a nice little acoustic guitar lead along with his soft, double-tracked singing.
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