Justin Sandercoe is among a select family of musicians (with Amanda Palmer) who adapted to the age of crowdfunding exactly right. Beginning with the launch of the instructional justinguitar.com in 2003, he managed to launch a career that includes accolades such as “7th top Youtube celebrity” and “one of the most influential guitar teachers in history.” This is, mind you, on top of having a solo album and being part of We Came As Strangers. Now Eyedom, their newest release, is out to the confusion and excitement of some who will both recognize and fail to recognize the face of their previous albums.
What immediately fails to appear in the eponymous opening track is the folk influences that made themselves prevalent in the Recipe For Adventure and Shattered Matter and, probably most obviously, on Sandercoe's solo album, Small Town Eyes. He processed with aplomb the casual tone of Neil Finn, the plain and full sound of Neil Young, or the fingertip touching of rock and folk best done by Wilco. These influences were stated even by Sandercoe in 2009, and Recipe let these influences through 2 years later like light through cracks. Then it became less clear what was happening as the sound refined and pulled back, away from the slightly cheesy and highly digestible, to a confused grasping for meaning in sentimentality (as made clear in the music video for “Shattered Matter”).
While some of this friendliness comes across in the interruption of “Adrenaline,” the strangely Bedingfield “Unwritten” vibe of “Trouble,” and the funky, quirky, and organ harboring “Madeline,” there’s something oddly impersonal around “electronic landscapes with acoustic recordings” dominating minutes of your time. It could be that the timbre of Ellem’s voice is better placed forward, and that it’s too bound up in instrumentals that contradict its earthier nature. Really, though, Eyedom doesn’t step very far from the previous album. The difference is that they, it felt, were only several inches short of a cliff.
There’s something off-putting about musicians who have all the trappings of the traditional reaching outward. On one hand, there are worn out welcomes. On the other, as with this album, you’re unsure if you want to meet them halfway for the binding handshake. It’s the kind of relationship an internet-originating musician like Sandercoe understands intimately; as Amanda Palmer writes in The Art of Asking, “It’s not the act of taking that’s so difficult, it’s more the fear of what other people are going to think.” So what do I think, having been in the hands of We Came As Strangers in their increasingly soundscape career? Tread carefully, for you tread the path of Wilco.