Don't let the easygoing title or hazy, lo-fi vibes of American Merlin's It's All Good fool you.
Jimmie Atchley's one-man project drips with sun-dappled, strummy pop songs, but the evolution of his most recent recordings was one of angst. On the American Merlin Bandcamp page, Atchley includes a rather wrenching explanation behind the new record -- travels to both coasts, love and loss, depression and recovery. In it, he grapples with what has long been the weapon of the best pop-smiths: writing sad songs that don't sound nearly as depressing as their subject matter.
And while more than a few of these songs dwell in dark corners, (or, as on "Synonym," veer into a kind of meta-mopery about singing sad songs), Atchley's melodic gifts sweeten the delivery. In the same note he mentions "the atmospheric sense about lo-fi music," an observation that gets at much of the charm of this fifteen-track album. That homemade sensibility shows modest but cleverly used pop smarts that wrap themselves around his open-hearted lyrics.
Most songs on It's All Good center on Atchley's sweetly yearning voice, which sits in the high-tenor range and can stretch to transmit the emotional pull of his lyrics as needed. "The Way You Want It" comes early in the program and gives the best impression of Atchley's gifts. His electric-guitar tone is perfectly cheap and plucky, with a plangent, gently reverberating ring well-suited for his winsome and casual strums. And aside from some ramshackle drumming and background keyboards, he keeps the song, like most here, stripped relatively bare.
"Girl So Blue" jams a finger in the reel-to-reel and garbles the tape so that Atchley's voice is slowed to a drawl, and the laconic guitar, syrupy synth strings and doo-wop harmonies follow suit. As the song goes on, the page slackens so gradually that his voice is pulled like taffy; it's a good example of his ability to use pleasing, comfortable pop forms and subvert them to match the melancholy mood.
When Atchley pushes the rhythm to the forefront, he lets some experimentalism shine through; "Chemical Living" rides glitchy, affected drum tracks, and set closer "The California Cold" rides on punchy beats and ringing bells. It's a trippy end to a mostly pop-centric affair, but, as the album title rightly suggests, even these diversions are all good.
Stream the album in full below:
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