Charles Watson – Now That I’m a River

Charles Watson departs from Slow Club’s indie-pop sound on his self-produced debut solo album. Presenting us instead with sophisticated retro pop that borrows sonic chops from Tame Impala’s Kevin Parker, and a bit of Grizzly Bear’s Chris Taylor, whilst also looking further back to 70s folk and Americana for inspiration. Its mostly mellow and melancholic vibes are well suited to a lazy summer’s afternoon, shading from the sun.

With three advanced singles painting vivid, but somewhat different, stylistic pictures, I was uncertain exactly what to expect from Watson’s album. Would it lean towards the scribbly soul of ‘Abandoned Buick’, or the mellow anthemic sounds found on ‘Everything Goes Right’ and ‘No Fanfare’? The album opens with the breezy vibes of ‘Voices Carry Through The Mist’, drawing from the same retro pop reservoir as Air, on their Moon Safari album. It’s a mellow but groovy vibe, which is so prevalent throughout the album that when ‘Abandoned Buick’ finally appears, tucked away on the second half, its momentum comes as a surprise.

For the album, as a whole, is a relaxed and gloomy affair. Dreamy Americana-folk, soaked in reverb, with Watson’s soft vocal acting more often like a melodic pad. The vocal doesn’t seem to demand attention to the lyrics often, which are intriguingly visual when you get through to them, based on his own works of fiction. You feel like Watson may have been more concerned with creating an atmospheric collection of songs to soundtrack some long road-trip on an endless highway. ‘Abandoned Buick’ stands out because of its duelling riffs, between a Yamaha YC30 and guitar, which rise up and draw attention in a way that little else on the album does.

There’s a darkness here too, as you search through the lyrics, you get hints of stories of addiction, true crimes and loss. Such as the second verse in ‘Abandoned Buick’: “Forget the washed out parasols/And the dreamers there underneath/I’ll burn your house down/Then I’ll call to tell you/I was watching from across the street”. There’s poetry and mystery at play, a sense that something sinister has happened, that no one’s speaking about, or has already happened, and people are trying to ignore. You could imagine the album working well to soundtrack the next series of Fargo, or something equivalent. It has captured a certain aspect of imagined endless American landscapes rather beautifully.

Watson has stated that he drew inspiration from J.G. Ballard’s dystopic novel Hello America, when crafting this body of work, which seems to make a lot of sense, as you start to delve deeper into it. On the surface it seems pleasant, floaty and unobtrusive. For my ears it could have done with a few more moments that grab the attention, or a little more passion in the delivery. Although one feels that straying too far from the template may have upset the mood here, which makes for an assured and confident first solo record, albeit one that seems deliberately understated.

Adam Kidd