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Patrick Watson: Better in the Shade

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Patrick Watson – Better in the Shade

Secret City Records – 22 April 2022

Patrick Watson never ceases to amaze, and his new album, Better in the Shade, surprises again and again. His slightly dishevelled look seems at odds with music that tends to be much more gentle and composed. The more you listen, the more you hear; along the way, you start realising that things aren’t always what they seem, and despite the moments of beauty are seams that don’t quite fit. Nothing is ever perfect. It’s the imperfection that makes things much more interesting.

Watson says, Better in the Shade “is about negotiating a world where you don’t know what’s real anymore.” Amidst a soft gauze of piano, a second comes in not so much at odds with the first yet playing in a slightly discordant fashion. Strings enter, and a maze of sounds seems to unsettle the careful balance. Only then do you realise Watson is creating the musical equivalent of the world we’ve wandered through over the course of the past couple of years, where beauty and pain occur in waves both disquieting and mesmerising.

The real question is how Watson makes music that is so gently unsettling and so appealing at the same time? “Height of the Feeling” has a bass line that’s comforting and uncomfortable at the same time.  The lyrics do their best to make sense of it, “Is there a loneliness leaking/ Inside of all of your thinking?/ As your breath hits the ceiling/ The words lose all of their meaning.” Soft keyboards squeak at the bottom of the mix while the song slowly devolves toward an ending that somewhat crazily ends up making worlds of sense.

Serving as something of a palette cleanser, “Old to Vivian” is a short piano-ish instrumental that gets swallowed up in a haze of sound leading into “Little Moments.” Voices and keyboards enter softly at odd angles before being eaten up in the gentle storm that ensues. In an album filled with mystical sounds, “La La La La La” becomes a lesson in understanding that less is more. The melody, just short of perfect, creates a bed for lyric-less vocalising that spins a web sucking in the listener while defying the need for lyrical meaning. “Star” adds more elements to the mix. Still, there is no easy penetrability to understanding the vocals, only adding more intrigue to proceedings that dazzle while they mystify.

Be aware that treating Better in the Shade as background music does Patrick Watson a huge disservice. The album engages by disengaging from the world we know, using parts we tend to rely on as stepping stones to a deeper understanding. Everything you know is wrong on Patrick Watson’s Better in the Shade, which is what makes it so perfectly right.

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