Album Review: And How! by Minor Poet
This review was originally published in Dust-Up Magazine on August 25, 2017 for the “RVA Bandcamp Of The Week” column.
There’s always a book you can’t put down, a show you can’t stop watching, or a record you can’t put down. There’s an allure to it, a charm, like it captures your identity, speaks about things in a manner you wish you could, or lets your brain decompress after a long day. And How! has that same allure, giving you thirty-three minutes of music you just want to put on again and again. But what’s great about And How! is how its compelling nature is actually not it’s most remarkable quality.
This was an album made solely for the process of recording, something Andrew Carter, the man behind Minor Poet, crafted while his band The Mad Extras began to unravel. Alone in a room with a pile of instruments around him, he let an overflow of musical creativity wash away the disappointments and anxieties of his life and career, opening him up to a new approach to songwriting with roots in bands and records he idolized. He used those inspirations to form his own musical identity, one that’s modest in presentation yet extraordinary in impact. It’s an identity fully explored on And How!, a record overflowing with superbly layered songs that are both hazy and lush, as well as sensational.
What I love most about Minor Poet’s debut record is how it captures the essence of Pet Sounds (a record Carter himself loves) as well as Brian Wilson‘s work leading up to that seminal release. Let’s be clear though: this isn’t Andrew Carter trying to out-do The Explorers Club while mimicking The Beach Boys. And How! actually has few sonic comparisons to Pet Sounds, but it’s the way Carter approaches songwriting and harmonies that draws the association.
Like Wilson, he’s searching for the perfect tone or perfect note to fit the melodies and harmonies that are filling the soundscapes in his mind. You can feel many of his songs striving for those moments of perfect clarity too. When he’s finally reached his destination, like on the soaring chorus of album opener “Plot Devices,” it’s heartwarming to see the conclusion of his melodic journey. And it’s not just great when Carter finds the perfect alignment of notes, rhythms, and tones, it’s simply inspiring.
The music is not the only inspiring aspect of And How! though. Carter’s lyrics, equally simple and clever, really drive this record, a fact that gets overlooked when trying to pull back the bushes of the dozens of layers each song offers. The verses unravel so effortlessly, like a basic conversation with an office mate at the beginning of a day, that their brilliance gets overlooked.
Carter uses plain conversations, asides, and observations to really flesh out the meanings of his songs. He drops mentions to hanging out in parks or by a museum, casually mentions what books he’s struggling with, and even frames his day around simple games. But it’s all on purpose, fueling the song and the pathos of his music. He’s not just dropping Infinite Jest to impress the listener. He’s planting seeds in your head to connect the dots between the two, whether it be the similar humorous ennui Carter mulls around or the fact that David Foster Wallace’s encyclopedic style could be compared to Carter’s own style of recording.
Listen to “Sudoku, An Enlightenment” and you’ll start to realize the casual brilliance of his lyrics. It’s a simple song built on a hazy sway that sees him recounting how his day has slipped away. It’s sung in a relaxed manner too, letting bombshell lines slip by before you realize their impact. “Who was I supposed to be today,” he asks, casually defining the period of lost ambition and misguided hesitancy that everyone faces at one point or another.
Most important is how he frames these lyrics, matching them with a melody that intentionally meanders in order to bolster the meaning of the song. It’s the type of song that can make you take stock of your own life, in this case leading you to you wonder how much of your day you’ve wasted or who you were supposed to be today.
And it’s the questions this record poses that compels you to come back more and more. What if you are the last to know? What are your own river days? How many times have you lied by just saying everything’s fine? Are you more drawn to Michelangelo de Caravaggio or David Foster Wallace? What game are you wasting your time with: Sudoku or Solitaire? And the biggest of all of them: What in the world is minor about this music?