Vincent Gallo's first full-length album, outside of his various indie film scores, is a remarkably subtle and delicate collection of songs from the usually fiery, iconoclastic auteur. Where the soundtrack to Buffalo 66 raged with prog rock abandon, When never sees Gallo working his acoustic guitars and analog percussion with anything other than graceful restraint. Those who know Gallo mostly as a bizarre, mesmerizing thespian will be surprised to discover that his vocal stylings are as gentle as they are throughout When. The title track and the four other songs with vocal turns find Gallo sounding like a cross between Jimmy Scott, Pale Saint's Ian Masters, and Yo la Tengo's Ira Kaplan. Maintaining a mellow, somewhat creepy and sweetly endearing tone, Gallo sings of brittle love on the lullaby-like "Apple Girl," obsession on the haunting "Honey Bunny," and, somewhat humorously, how life can be "so nice" on "Yes I'm Lonely," a song that wouldn't seem out of place in a 21st century update of Mary Poppins. The five instrumentals that comprise the remainder of the album are primarily minimalist, moody, and jazzy. Gallo frequently conjures a fractured atmosphere of tender, uneasy bliss, strumming every guitar himself and layering each melodic element into an off-kilter look into the slow-burning emotional underbelly of modern existence. Trip-hop shuffles start, stutter, and stop; malevolent buzzing crops up and dissipates; and a guitar ratchets and moans like an electrified Etch-a-Sketch. When is entirely accessible, but it works its charm in dark ways that might be unsettling for some listeners. With its smart, confident arrangements, consistent tone, and fascinating personal themes, the album sees Gallo making a bold, confident, and mature musical step of considerable relevance.
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AllMusic Review by Tim DiGravina