Nathan Sexton - Grave
In the strange world that is the music business, sadness has unfortunately become a necessary evil for songwriters. Especially since the angst-ridden grunge era and the more tween-focused emo fad, sadness has paid the bills, but also very often at the expense of the singer having to retell his/her most dark, intimate memories on a daily basis. Kurt Cobain, Conor Oberst, and Elliott Smith, among an innumerable list of others, have expressed dismay with themselves, their fans, and/or the music industry collectively for demanding this heart-on-sleeve, deeply autobiographical storytelling, noting how their job becomes dehumanizing: the artist becomes commodified for profits.
With that being said, Georgia's singer/songwriter/musician Nathan Sexton initially seems doomed with a debut album entitled Grave. Failure means anonymity-years of hard work never becoming recognized or appreciated-but success, even worse, leads to expectations of more "graves," more sadness that will define one's future. Fortunately, Sexton eschews the lachrymose tales of loss and self-deprecation, creating a commendable, though certainly not perfect, record that is heartfelt and honest without being overtly self-absorbed.
Only a letter off from Jeff Buckley's debut, Grace, Grave has its share of Buckley moments, whom Sexton admitted to being a major influence on his music. The plucking guitars and poignant annunciations towards the end of opener "I'm Fine" resonate with Buckley's lighter moments, concluding a relatively tame first track with a gentle beauty, focusing on a subtle shift in dynamics rather than a boisterous crescendo.
The album contains some initially pleasing but ultimately unmemorable tracks. For example, "Satellite" recalls Radiohead's Pablo Honey roots, infusing forceful guitars with pop sensibility, but the lyrics fall a bit flat: "Reach for something deep inside / Many years I tried to hide / Inspiration from regret / Relinquish this barrage of death." Additionally, "I Say It" closes with the guitar freakouts of a heavier band, and Sexton yelps with an intensity on par with an Axl Rose (without the irritation), but the song still cannot escape comparisons to a rehashed version of old Radiohead.
The best tracks are not muddled by missteps, though. "All My Loving" makes The Beatles hit into a melancholic yet breezy folk song replete with staccato jabs, ending with an extra homage to The Beatles' "Something." Then there is "Crooner," whose varied instrumentation helps differentiate it as the album's standout track. The piano lays a pretty foundation for trumpets to blare over, building towards a crescendo that is both rattling and graceful, showing Sexton's ability to pay respects to Buckley while creating a sound distinctly his own. These moments prove that Sexton has all the tools to have a stellar career; if his wheels keep turning, Grave will be remembered as an ironically titled debut to a vivacious career.
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