Crawling from the beautiful wreckage of 'neon and ruin,' Slender Means guitarist Sonny Votolato releases a solo debut of vitreous confessional singer/songwriter material as Blue Checkered Record Player. The release is gently elegant in vocal delivery, but storm-swept by cellos, swirl-kissed by acoustic keyboards, and strum-stroked by unplugged six strings throughout. The record features some vocal melodies that sound right out of a Top 40's folk-rock crossover track from the '60s ("Coat Check"), and at least one bone-rattling, Leonard Cohen-level anthem about not going back to a fatally flawed relationship ("Cratered Footsteps"), before the ten-song cycle rocks a little on its ninth and most viscerally stimulating track, "Apathy."
Does that last song title sound a little emo-core? The oldest of the musical Votolato siblings was the front-man for Fields of Mars and Bugs in Amber, and his lyrics seem saturated with the kind of self-consciousness and unadorned painful clarity of many bands who cycled through the Velvet Elvis and Paradox on the Ave a few years back. Votolato has been playing out locally since 1994, and that could be why his delivery seems so assured for a style that's becoming very popular.
There is something almost psychedelic in the guitar playing and the orchestral elements, played by the Hideous Thieves' violinist Seth Warren, and cellist Jeremy Morton. The sound reaches its textural apex in the album's mesmerizing closer "Love Struck Ivy Vines," with the strings backing haunting, twisting lines like, "look at her look away, I can't pretend, ignore my premeditated torment, lingering."
These shattered images of devastating disappointment and sudden grace recur through the songs like a reading of Emily Dickinson set to early Tim Buckley. The iciness wouldn't be so enjoyable if one couldn't feel the warm heart of the artist beneath it.