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Chris Garneau
El Radio
Absolute Kosher
9/10

Piano and pop don’t mix- at least that’s the conventional wisdom with regard to “popular” music. Yet Chris Garneau defies expectations. Since releasing his debut album Music for Tourists in 2006, he has consistently proven that in the hands of a capable musician, 88 keys can indeed, be cool to listen to. Two years later, he’s back with a sophomore album El Radio and far from slumping. The record is a orchestra of sounds capturing emotional highs and lows- more lows than highs.

Aside from the aforementioned orchestra, the record is an orchestra of symphonics, cello, and of course Garneau’s own piano. “Dirty Night Clown” finds Garneau and friends rocking cello and drums to an atonal, discordant beat. “No More Pirates” is an upbeat, horn laden ditty about forgiveness. On “Fireflies,” Garneau channels his inner Tin Pan Alley artist, composing a tale of musical suspicion worthy of an off-Broadway play. Foghat this is not.

Despite the eclectic nature of the record, the album does have its downsides. The eerie tone and subject matter of the songs (several deal with death- natural or otherwise) may turn off audiences who are more used to upbeat faire from Top 40 than introverted, complicated songwriting. There are sleepers too. The slow strumming of “Raw and Awake” is more lullaby than pop song. Yet this is an exception to the rule.

Though the album is far from upbeat, overall the record speaks to the diverse range of Garneau’s material. From instrumental tracks to Tin Pan Alley style songs, there is little that he is incapable of. Far from being typical singer-songwriter faire, the album is a sonic expression of our common emotionality- both good and bad.

While “El Radio” may not be for everyone, it is certainly worth paying attention to- even if it is macabre at times. The album is due out July 9th, 2009. For more information, check out www.chrisgarneau.com.

–Jack Winn