No gloss

Ballew's pop folk delivers a basement vibe

| July 04, 2013

Pop punk-influenced folkster Tyson Ballew has an impressive discography. There is seemingly no end to the mostly DIY recordings the Montana native and Bellingham, Wash., transplant has released, including heartfelt ballads, acoustic rockers, kids' songs, tracks titled "B-sides and rarities," covers and more. And that's just his solo stuff. For those already familiar with Ballew's music, his recent album, Moa in Repose, adds yet another strong collection of tunes to the mix.

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For those less familiar, it's important to understand that Ballew eschews glossy production and tight arrangements in favor of passionate songs with a basement-recording vibe. It's an aesthetic that will alienate some listeners and charm others. A few (myself included) will balk at his voice, which sounds a bit like the Decemberists' Colin Meloy, who can't quite hit all the notes. Certain tracks seem a step away from completion, like the lack of drums on "The Skeptic."

Elsewhere, scruffy beauty emerges, such as in the plaintive guitar melodies on "Fruit Trees for Cassowaries." The smart, tongue-in-cheek lyrics of the Missoula-inspired "Ballad of the Bitter Industrial Designer" show Ballew's talent for satire and a tone similar to the popular sketch comedy "Portlandia." Like that television show, Ballew pokes fun, but with the kind of affection that celebrates place as much as it criticizes it.

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