BASCOM HILL – Maybe
(2005 Arrival Records)
Written by John Payne
According to their press release, Bascom Hill, a Madison band named after the large hill in front of the UW’s most well-known building, have a sound similar to that of Jack Johnson and Train (as well as unmentioned artists such as Vertical Horizon, John Mayer, etc). Whether or not this is a good thing depends on the individual, but one thing is certain regardless: their press release’s statement is accurate.
From a technical standpoint, Bascom Hill executes as well as any of these artists (classically trained lead vocalist Charlie Victor does possess unimpeachable vocal talent). It would not be a stretch to say that by these standards they have a pretty good shot at achieving mainstream success (they’ve already have a sizable fan base in the Midwest). Trouble is, that fact is also indicative of how safe and by-the-book Bascom Hill’s playing is. All of the typical light-modern-rock elements are present in force: mildly funky acoustic guitar, pretty but generic melodies, sometimes sickeningly-sweet harmonizing, lyrics such as “Turn your head one last kiss goodbye / You said that I’ve got to try” (from “My Will”), and even a Jason Mraz-like hip-hop-ish drum-and-scat break near the end of “Maybe.” Ultimately it is very difficult to distinguish Bascom Hill from their contemporaries and influences, the possible exception being that only people from around here will likely understand their name.
Despite the album’s overall bland feel, it is difficult to overlook some considerable highlights. Specifically, the lyrics sometimes (though certainly not always) transcend well above the trite, modern-rock clichés the musical accompaniment makes you expect to hear. Victor expresses frustration at the difficulty of relationships: “Together you and I are alone / Almost exactly the same / Except for everything you believe” (from “Thank You”). Rather than dwell on his frustrations, however, he searches for solutions: “Whether or not you think I’m right / I don’t intend to change your mind / I only offer you the choice.” (from “Mr. Taylor’s Class”). Lyrics such as these cut much deeper into the popular modern-rock issue of conflict in relationships than most others, making them feel more reality-based and less like they were written only because the music demands lyrics in this vein.
Unfortunately, powerful words can only stand on their own in the realm of literature. In music, they are insufficient if the music they’re accompanying doesn’t equal their quality, as is the case here. Granted, it makes the album more worthwhile than if all the lyrics were lacking the passion the music lacks, a problem many artists of this genre suffer from. In the end, though, this album would most likely only appeal strongly to fans of the various top-forty artists referenced throughout this review. The rest of us will want to look for something edgier and more adventurous.