Artist: Steve Layman
Steve Layman self-describes as “acoustic punk”; and with various manifestations across two releases, these roots show. While working on a second full-length (which is scheduled for a 2015 release date), Layman tides us over with Keepsakes. Across the five song EP, Layman's punk can be heard in the raw acoustic strumming bringing to mind Dinosaur Jr.'s J Mascis' Martin + Me, which is alt rock, and the power vocals of a Seven Mary Three (“Headstrong”), which is grunge – unique touchstones for a singer-songwriter. As for punk on his Hope Is All We Have LP, Layman lyrically deep-dives inconsistencies inhering in the genre's ever-evolving/devolving ethos (“Pigeonholed”), and on “Death & Taxes” attacks that same bankrupt American culture NOFX assails, doing so through rollicking rock that moves and shifts like the best of Cymbals Eat Guitars (“XR”).
It is on this debut full-length that Layman introduces considerable dynamism through the addition of instruments (including Layman's own electric guitar) and musicians – Ron Grieco (drums), Mike Cox (bass), and Tony Bucci (guest vocals). If Hope Is All We Have provides any clue, we can come to expect from Steve Layman albums dimension-adding percussion (:44-53 of “Take You Back”) and bass (3:04 of “Take You Back”); acoustic guitar that paces (:36 of “For The Hills”) and commands attention through intricacy (intro of “Fly Creek”); and an electric guitar that expresses with embellishment, fills (:44 of “Take You Back”), and solos (3:00 of “Irish Guilt”) – not to mention vocal diversity through layering and screamo a la the REM-turn-Thursday of “Fly Creek” at 3:04 (or 1:43 of “Irish Guilt”).
Through melodic mentions in “For the Hills” and “Highway Lines,” we find that Steve Layman shares ancestral relatives with Frightened Rabbit (“Late March, Death March”) and Mark Lanegan (“The River Rise”). And like them, whether alone or with musical friends, Layman often establishes enduring connections with the listener through observation and poetry.
Layman's choice observations are too numerous to go into here, so allow me an illustrative example: a lyric to “Pigeonholed.” After taking on punk's extensive rules governing DIY, Layman applies blunt honesty to both himself and the human condition (“I’ll play with whoever I want, wherever I can / Because chances are we’re all a little out of step / Success is not measured in wealth”) and then: (1) writes lyrical truth (“And you don’t need to start a family to feel love”), (2) but doesn't deliver it, (3) because he subsequently discovered an even more enlightened bon mot (“Procreation's not the only form of creation”).
Likewise, poetic turns of phrase abound, but “Wildflower” provides a perfect example: “You say 'I feel like a wild flower / The ones we found down by the stream / The ones that you picked out for me / On that lazy afternoon / ….I wish the wind would set me free.” And on “Unfit Dullard,” when Layman finds he has “no time for allegory,” he is a man of few words. But still, for ignorant hate-mongers, he summons the most poetic admonition of all:
“Get fucked, you ignorant piece of shit.”
And when Steve Layman says it, it’s making a lot of sense.
*** The author of this review, Howard Patterson, plays the kendang for the following band: http://youtu.be/tMS73-1kCr8