This band of dreamy-pop is of a style that really hasn’t been approached much since Sean Lennon started out back in the late nineties. Michaels’ music is not stale or rote in the least, and “Anyways” has the same laid-back beels that Christian superstar Bryan Duncan has had throughout his career. However, “Low Stress in the Deep End” can seem middling at times; the same fault that has reared its ugly head on the Dwight Ritcher albums – the lack of differentiation in tempo – comes on strongly during the earliest strains of this disc. Finally breaking out of this slow-tempo haze for “Everybody”, Drayton Michaels shows that eir’s ear for pop is impeccable; the malaise that marked the previous tracks has still remained, albeit to the most minor of degree. What is needed for true enjoyment of “Low Stress” is for Michaels to be more confident in vocals and forceful with each phrase ey utters. The parallels that can be made to early-era Elton John and Hedwig, especially in tracks like “UInderstand” can not be understated – but again, even though Michael’s voice is masterful, it lacks the oomph that will endear itself with a fanbase.
The only other issue that comes up on “Low Stress” is the Spartan arrangements that weigh heavy throughout the disc; with the previous problems associated with Michael’s voice, it becomes an issue that Michaels’ pipes are so singularly saddled with the responsibility to further the sound. Sure, there are guitar solos (“At Least”) that rise out of the muck, but they are fleeting and oft-times disappear just as quickly as they appear. I desperately wanted to dig this disc, as all of the songs are crafter solidly and only have faults in the fact they are just missing one thing before I could conceivably hear them on teen-based TV shows and the like – they simply do not have that energy that makes tracks pop out of the CD and explode in listener’s ears that is a hallmark of indie-pop success stories like Rufus Wainwright and Bright Eyes.
Lets make this clear: Michaels’ work is leaps and bounds better than 99% than most of the singular singer-songwriters, but when it lacks, it lacks in the matters that would make this a full and memorable disc. I have total faith in the ability of Michaels to continually innovate and come back in a year or two with a better disc.
Top Tracks: Everybody, Ghosts of Manhattan
Drayton Michaels – Low Stress in the Deep End / 2005 K9-Son / http://www.draytonmichaels.com / firstname.lastname@example.org / Reviewed 31 March 2005