With gentle melodicism as his compass, Arun O’Connor boldly steps into a wilderness of poeticisms in his new album Songs from the Reading Room. In songs like this one and the title track, O’Connor does not find himself besieged by detailed instrumentation, but instead a welcome interpreter of lyricism ready to take these words and give them just a little bit of sonic weight they might have been missing beforehand. It’s a strenuous effort, but for what I look for in a singer/songwriter listen, this is about as good a full-length as I could hope to come by.
“Let Go of My Heart” and “Too Far Gone” have some obvious rock influences that don’t get lost in the intricacies of the arrangements here, and I would even argue that they flow a little better because of the charismatic swing in O’Connor’s step here. He’s not afraid of the rhythm of the music, nor integrating his delivery with that of the percussion, and I think this helps him out in songs like these, the simpler “When the Lights Go Down (In This Town),” as well as the stoic “When the Darkness Comes Around,” each of which could serve as a lead single for this LP.
“Games I Can’t Win” and “Star of Your Own Show” don’t have as much of the textural support that a lot of this other material does, but I don’t think that O’Connor is overly reliant on it to the point where this affects the way we break down his message here. After all, he’s got the kind of melodicism in his performance where there isn’t a need for physicality from the band – all this guy requires is a short distance from the microphone and he’s able to belt out just about anything he wants.
I would have liked to put “Another Reminder” and “Used” ahead of “When the Darkness Come Around,” but for the continuity of the tension that O’Connor is building at different stages of this record, I can understand why he went the way he did here. It’s not a progressive album outright, but the conceptual nature of the storytelling in Songs from the Reading Room is difficult for a critic like myself to ignore, especially when going through the tracklist as many times as I have. It may lack the pomp, but there’s a stacked aesthetical backing to every part of this album.
Although this has been an exceptional spring for the singer/songwriter movement out of the American underground, Songs from the Reading Room nonetheless stands out as a record that fans of this style really don’t want to miss. Arun O’Connor’s devastating harmonies and elegant use of lyricism compel even the more discriminating of listeners to fall in love with the skillset he presents in this LP, and despite a vast pool of competition on either side of the dial, this kind of output is destined to get the attention of just about anyone who can appreciate pastoral melodicism over urban plasticity.