Mar 10, 2008, 08:21AM

Album Review: Luke Temple, Snowbeast

Indie troubadour wrote one knockout song, but his album  can’t follow it.

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Brooklyn singer/songwriter Luke Temple exists somewhere in the increasingly bloated and nebulous genre that is indie folk. Temple’s debut, Hold a Match for a Gasoline World, revealed his talent for mid-tempo, verse/chorus folk, and he experienced a degree of mainstream success when the track “Make Right with You” appeared in an episode of Grey’s Anatomy. But Temple has more to offer than simple fodder for your girlfriend’s favorite TV show; his sophomore effort, Snowbeast, demonstrates his capacity for precise experimentation, layering multiple tracks of vocals, synthesizers, and homemade percussion over an array of memorable melodies.  

Album opener “Saturday People” is a psychedelic folk-waltz powered by steady banjo and bass. Temple’s voice is the track’s predominant instrument and he shapes his elastic tenor into harmonies evocative of past bands like Crosby, Stills, Nash & Young. Temple’s lyrics are equally reminiscent of 60s folk-rock, singing of a mescaline trip in the city and “People / Looking-glass people.” But the opening track always feels modern, constantly shifting tempo and swelling with rich orchestration.

“Saturday People” is one of Snowbeast’s standout tracks, but unfortunately it’s a deceiving opener. The next eleven songs feel hollow in comparison.  

Of these, “People Do” is one of the best, as well as the most conventional. The song is a straightforward folk ballad featuring guitar and string bass. Temple populates the song with harmonies that reveal the full range of his voice, giving “People Do” a full-bodied depth and beauty.  

Other times, Temple sounds painfully alone. The fingerpicked “Medicine” goes nowhere, leaving Temple’s forthright delivery to float aimlessly for two minutes. “Serious” is equally vacant. Built on a sluggish 4/4 beat, the track is all bass and the listener faces a barrage of synth bleeps and droning keyboard lines.

Temple is at his best when he combines his ability to multi-track a colorful array of instruments and vocals over simple melodies. “Where is Away” features a rolling banjo line reminiscent of Grizzly Bear that builds as the song progresses.  Halfway through, a marching snare drum leads the track to a swirling crescendo of synthesizer, banjo, and percussion. The heavy beat of “Family Vacation” could sound repetitive, but Temple sings in a calm falsetto that compliments the song’s subtle layers of electronic experimentation.

While Snowbeast has more highs than lows, it is a fragmented success. Temple’s songwriting stretches beyond conventional folk balladry, but the album lacks cohesion. Songs like “Saturday People” and “Medicine” could be the product of two different artists. And while Temple appears content to wear a number of masks, at the end of Snowbeast the listener is left to piece together the past forty minutes of music.  


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