Nat Baldwin – People Changes (Western Vinyl)
August 14, 2011 by Kris Lavin
Nat Baldwin has been a busy man. As well as being the bassist of The Dirty Projectors, he also contributed to Vampire Weekend’s Contra and The Department of Eagles’s In Ear Park. The first time I came across his solo work was on a split EP with Extra Life, but he’s also released four full-length albums of his own, which seem to have slipped under the radar a little, considering the relatively high-profile projects that he’s been a part of. People Changes is, just about, his fifth full-length album, and with seven tracks spanning thirty minutes, one would assume that Nat Baldwin has opted for quality in favour of quantity on this particular release.
Armed with a double bass and a voice that contains hints of Arthur Russell and Owen Pallett, the album opens with a cover of the former’s ‘A Little Lost’, which remains fairly faithful to the original, albeit with more bass and less cello. Baldwin’s instrument sounds expansive and strong, and while the concept of one man singing while playing a double bass may seem a little unusual, this track’s a pretty good example of how well it can work. The soft, almost falsetto vocals flutter to and fro, unpredictably changing tone and serving as an interesting contrast to the deep, stern sound of the bass. Then, as the final long note fades out, ‘Weights’ begins with a flourish of woodwinds, and the addition of the new instruments lend a richer texture to the song, which, in structure, is quite similar to the last, but Baldwin’s captivating singing keeps things fresh for now.
‘Real Fakes’ begins strongly, with some sparse pizzicato, and an occasional stab of bowed strings, but the latter half of the song descends into a cacophony of dissonance which sounds a little like fingernails being dragged across a chalk board. It’s different, I suppose, but it’s also just not very nice to listen to, or interesting, and I can’t imagine why anybody would want to listen to it for a second time. Unfortunately, this is just a taster of what’s to come, and ‘What Is There’ is essentially a very experimental three minute double bass solo. Let’s just say there’s a reason that there aren’t too many three minute double bass solos in modern music.
‘Lifted’ features the widest array of instruments on the whole album, with all kinds of woodwinds, a guitar, snare and, of course, the double bass. Baldwin’s songs are almost always devoid of choruses, but this song’s chorus is where the album peaks, and even makes up for some of the harder to listen to moments. ‘The Same Thing’ is also very good – a delicate little number with some very warm strings and an excellent vocal performance.
There are some great moments on People Changes, especially ‘Lifted’ and ‘A Little Lost’, but it could really do without the lengthy voyages into noise. However, without those, the album would only be roughly twenty four minutes long. On the plus side, Baldwin’s voice is bafflingly good throughout, like a beautiful instrument in its own right, and is definitely the most notable element of the album. If People Changes was longer, and less experimental, Nat Baldwin would definitely be on to something.