John Dominy – Atlantic Coast (2016)
With a name that would be right at home in a Boardwalk Empire script, an album cover resembling a 1980s postcard, and a sound that lies somewhere between sunny ’60s pop and late ’90s nerd-rock, John Dominy covers the majority of a century in 37 short minutes. Spoiler alert: He does so with flying colors.
Dominy’s cocky, rough-around-the-edges vocals are (rightfully so) at the forefront of these songs, but the true beauty of Atlantic Coast is the expert way he layers what’s behind them. Everything is placed exactly as it should be, from the reverbed slide guitar in songs like “February” to the lightly picked banjo in songs like “Mixed Up” to the meticulously crafted vocal oohs in nearly every track. The production is a carefully arranged puzzle with no missing pieces.
Right from the get-go, Dominy hits you with a one-two punch of upbeat, radio-ready gems. The title track kicks things off with a flare of acoustic-based indie-rock that wouldn’t be out of place on a One Tree Hill soundtrack, before giving way to “Starlight Friends,” a foot-tapping/hand-clapping highlight, fully equipped with an annoyingly (but not really)-catchy melody of vocal oohs. It’s a near-perfect start to an almost equally consistent record. Mid-sequenced songs “Mixed Up” and “February” show Dominy stepping into folk-revival territory, with simple and effective arrangements focusing heavily around an acoustic guitar and harmony-laden vocals. Closing track “The River” sounds like a Fleet Foxes tune, and I mean that in the most flattering way possible. The fact that this band of four pulls all this off so effortlessly is proof that they are masters of their craft, with an incredibly promising career ahead of them.
That’s not to say the record doesn’t have its strange moments: “Modern Dream,” which sits uncomfortably smack in the middle of the record, sounds more like a Weezer impersonation than anything else in the sequence. It’s not an unenjoyable song–quite the contrary–but it does feel out of place on this particular record. “Fourth of July” has the one and only production misstep; most of the bass and treble frequencies are purposely removed from the mix to give it a lo-fi feel akin to a ’60s portable radio. If the song (or the effect) lasted half as long, this would be much more successful, but at just over four minutes, it becomes a bit tiring.
John Dominy and company are clearly Wilco contemporaries, which there is certainly no shortage of in this day and age. That said, Atlantic Coast is much more successful than it has the right to be. In just 10 short songs, I feel like I’ve gotten a glimpse of a young songwriter on the brink of breaking out. It’s been almost a year since Dominy released this record to the world, and I can’t wait to see what the followup brings, as well as the festival posters he’s bound to be included on. Hopefully Fyre Festival won’t be one of them.
RIYL: Wilco, Foster the People, Fleet Foxes