Leaving the suburbs behind, Bob Evans’ Familiar Stranger hits a lush, layered note. Cannily on-trend, in touch with all the latest tropes of nostalgic pop, it’s a departure from the acoustic guitar-driven sounds of his so-called suburban trilogy.
Like any album, it’s marked by derivation, with many a nod to alumni like The Beatles (as ever), Beck, Elliott Smith, and The Strokes (particularly as in ‘Go’, the video clip for which features Tim Rogers as the dastardly competition for our hero’s love interest), with hints of Brit-pop like Robbie Williams and Blur. It could be the newly elevated role of Evans’ rhythm section, notably including drummer Joey Waronker, who’s worked with (and is possibly responsible for the album’s proximity to) Beck and Smith.
But Evans’ songwriting, forming the spinal column of the album, is as strong as ever, so while the production here is front and centre, a quintessentially gen-Y sound, it’s bona fide Evans. Musically diverse, it moves through a very current, heavily produced pop sound in the first tracks, towards a ballad-y midsection, full of strings and harmonies, and then back again to something harder edged.
It should be unsurprising though: ‘Don’t Want to Grow Up Anymore’, released last year on the Double Life EP, was fair warning with its catchy falsettos, spacious sound and fuzzy-edged nostalgia; all lush, layered and decked out in full pop regalia. Meanwhile, songs like ‘To Let You Down’, a piano-driven ballad with a pop sensibility, and ‘Sitting in the Waiting Room’, are melodic and harmony-heavy, working the room with left-of-field chord progressions in a totally unexpected way, along with ‘Bruises’, with it’s sweet, sweet harmony-drenched chorus.
It’s this sound that is built on throughout the album, which segues through rich and varied landscapes like (personal favourite) ‘Get it Together’, teaming a punchy rhythm section (hello, Joey Waronker), with a sweetly infectious ‘ooooh oooooh’ chorus.
It was Evans himself who said he’d taken his former sound as far as it could go – for now anyway – and if you’re going to do leave something behind, your alter ego is the best man for the job – that’s what he invented it for. And as departures go, Familiar Stranger has the feel of a well-poised pseudonym in full stride.
Review Score: 9.1 out of 10