Ben Fuller believes that every place he visits and every person he meets has a story and that visiting new places fills him with new energies he puts into music. It’s likely it’s that kind of wandering spirit, hippie ethos which gives his debut EP an upbeat vibe.
‘Ashes’ opens the EP with a 4/4 semi-acoustic workout which is musically strong. While the music is great (incorporating elements of Ryan Adams and the many other Americana-pop singer-songwriters and bands out there) and Fuller’s song writing seems to be built on solid foundations, his vocal is an acquired taste. There’s something about it which seems like a product of the studio – an unnatural shininess detracts from Fuller’s performance. Something which should have a natural sound feels a bit too “perfect” and in doing so has lost a lot of heart. ‘Handsome Lover’ offers a decent slab of pop/rock with a tougher edge than most of the EP; the lower end of Fuller’s vocal range steers away from the previous irritation. It’s hard not to listen to it and not be reminded of Jakob Dylan and The Wallflowers, which, as most people know, is never a bad thing.
Although slightly slower, ‘Favourite Song’ hovers somewhere between the two styles of the previous songs. The chorus retains the decent punch and the verses have a gentle feel. With the help of its decent-ish chorus, this should have been a highlight, but Fuller’s voice isn’t that great here – as with the opening track, it sounds too clean; almost a little cartoonlike. I’m still unsure as to whether some studio trickery has been employed… There’s always a possibility his natural voice carries an unnatural timbre, of course – look at Paulo Nutini. Actually, let’s not.
Musically, ‘Inside Out’ is a great example of jangly, slightly retro pop – the kind Counting Crows are capable of, that is, on the rare occasions they’re not wading knee-deep in an overly wordy mope-athon. The ringing guitars and an unfussy drum rhythm keep things buoyant and the track has enough peaks and troughs to stop it from ever becoming stale. Once again, though, Fuller’s vocal style has a quirkiness which may not always appeal, but that’s easy to gloss over when everything else is decent.
As a sort of tribute to Fuller’s roots, on the surface, ‘California’ carries a chirpiness which strives for that perfect radio hit for the summer and in doing so it’s effective. Usually, I’m not a fan of the almost beach styled pop, but thanks to a simple chorus and a great guitar part, it manages to be a winner. However, if we look at that simple chorus a bit closer, this ode to California doesn’t necessarily seem to be all together positive. It appears to be a statement of how California thinks of itself as above others: “We don’t want nobody, we’re California!” It’s infectiousness ensures this is memorable long after listening, making it one of the EP’s strongest cuts.
‘Aquarian Son’ occasionally has a poppier edge than a lot of other stuff of a similar ilk and Fuller’s voice can be incredibly irritating at times. However, largely due to Fuller’s knack for writing uncomplicated melodies and having a decent band in tow, most of the songs really stand out. While it’s not as introspective as some of Ryan Adams’s gentler works, it’s not hard to imagine that some of his fan base could find something to latch onto while listening to this EP; or maybe if you’re a big fan of the lighter moments of Train’s work (most obviously their ‘Save Me, San Francisco’ album) this will have some appeal.