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Music for Tourists

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Album Review

The novelty of the sensitive male alto wore off long ago; yes, the idea of the doe-eyed boy who sings of love in all its forms, when done well, can still certainly hold a great deal of appeal, but when it seems formulaic and forced, it's wholly forgettable. While Chris Garneau, the slight, piano-playing singer/songwriter with the high, breathy voice, is not an untalented musician, he unfortunately does little to set himself apart from the rest of the cadre. In fact, the most notable thing about him may be how relatively straightforward his music is. Produced by none other than Duncan Sheik, Garneau's debut, Music for Tourists, is composed of slow piano-and-string indie ballads that, though they occasionally threaten to turn into something powerful, more often stay with the same barely breathing, minor-keyed, quarter-noted chord progressions that stick and falter in their own reflection like dull scissors cutting through contact paper. Garneau does periodically employ a kind of super-syncopated and super-enunciated twee phrasing, like in "Castle Time," when he sings, "My teacher died/Even the frying pan cried," that distinguishes him and his über-preciousness and gives him some individual character, but this is more bothersome and affected than endearing. The few moments where passion overtakes him and his voice drops and fills out, like in "Sad News" or "Relief," are more honest and bare than anytime Garneau sings sorrowfully "I'm sorry he brought us there/Me, crying in my underwear," and give a welcome glimpse of the person behind the sometimes-corny, sometimes-insightful lyrics (the rather inane "I love the way you dance.../Don't you miss your chance" coupled with the brilliant "I didn't go to see the city/I went to see it around you" in "Relief"). But too much of the album gets caught in the shallow grave of introspection, struggling half-heartedly to pull itself out, already resigned to unremarkable misery, just like everyone else. Perhaps the most telling moment of this in on the bonus track, a cover of Elliott Smith's "Behind the Bars." Where Smith was able to convey very real-sounding and often subtle layers of despair in his voice, Garneau just seems like he's trying to be fragile, barely reaching the high notes and affecting an almost-Irish accent on some of the vowels, simply because that's what he thinks he's supposed to do. He's suffering from a lack of presence, if anything, which makes Music for Tourists, with all its bright spots, a cumbersome affair.

Biography

Born: New Jersey

Genre: Alternative

Years Active: '00s

After playing around Brooklyn for a while, singer/songwriter Chris Garneau was signed to Absolutely Kosher in the spring of 2006, after a recommendation from Jamie Stewart, whose band, Xiu Xiu, was on the label. A piano player since age five, Garneau released his debut, Music for Tourists, a slow, sad collection of sparsely...
Full bio
Music for Tourists, Chris Garneau
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