When the world learned that Michael Cera, the awkward actor known for his roles in Scott Pilgrim Vs. the World, Superbad, and the TV series Arrested Development had released a lo-fi folk album, the internet damn nigh exploded.
It was well known that the 26 year old stuttering icon was a music junkie, having toured as a bassist with the indie rock supergroup Mister Heavenly, which also includes members of Passion Pit, The Shins, and Modest Mouse. Cera also played bass and guitar in his role as the title character of Scott Pilgrim VS. The World– not just on the screen, but also on the movie’s soundtrack. He even played mandolin on the Weezer album Hurley. That being said, no one expected him to actually release an album out of the blue.
Much to our surprise, Cera has obviously had it in the works for quite some time. “I would record songs in the middle of the night at home” he stated. “I never thought anyone would ever listen to them.”
The album isn’t a grandiose musical project, nor is it some kind of cryptic message in a bottle. Many of the 18 tracks are wordless melodies awkwardly strung together. There are comical parallels between Cera’s film roles and the titles and structures of his songs. Tracks like “ohNadine (you were in my dream)”, sound like something Scott Pilgrim would pluck out in an attempt to impress Ramona Flowers, and songs like “What Gives…(i can’t like like this) are either examples of Cera parodying his public image or proof that he and his characters are one and the same. Produced entirely with Garageband, the album certainly lives up its lo-fi name– no sign of any complicated layering or audio wizardry.
That being said, Cera didn’t release this album for its comedic value. The actor stated that a friend of his had commented that he was “too careful with his music”, which motivated him to release the record as a “leap of faith”. The Blaze Foley cover “Clay Pigeons”, is a standard folk jam brightened with a gentle guitar and a chiming piano that adds colour and energy whenever the track approaches monotony. “2048” is excellently produced, blending a lone synthesizer with a shuffling drum line in a style reminiscent of the Postal Service, which isn’t half bad for a song named after a game that was popular for about 2 months. The whistling reverb of “ohNadine (you were in my dream)” resembles something out of a Wes Anderson score, in a good way.
Cera does have his musical hiccups. With the exception of “2048”, and “Of a Thursday”, true that can be a monotonous ride. “Ruth”, the album’s longest effort, lacks the dynamic to keep a listener’s attention for the whole 5 minute run. The painfully slow intro on “Kettle” is almost a deal breaker for the track. Cera’s vocals are shy, often resembling screeching or a mumbling rather than singing. “Clay Pigeons” is a vocal anomaly, where he breaks out a style of talk-singing that’s bizarrely effective. It’s clear that Cera is nervous about expressing himself in his lyrics, which prevents him from creating a meaningful expression or message on true that.
What Cera has succeeded in is proving his merit as an artist. Tracks like “Of a Thursday” and the latter half of “Kettle” show incredible piano chops, while “ohNadine (you were in my dream)” demonstrates a knack for psychedelia. Meanwhile, the almost-electro sound of “2048” and the melodic complexity of “Brat” indicate that Cera could move into a more elaborate musical form.
Perhaps most reassuringly, closing song “Those Days” is a confident stand-alone jam where Cera, for the only time on the record, shows mastery of his own voice as well as his guitar.
true that isn’t an artistic wonderstroke, but it’s a huge step for Cera’s career. And while this album has its highs and lows, you can’t help but hope that Cera, with all his industry connections and obvious talent, will make music a more regular hobby.
The Gist of it: Can be slow or lack direction, but has many an enjoyable tune and is an admirable first effort. A light 3/5.
Favourite Tunes: “Clay Pigeons”, “Of a Thursday”, “2048”, “ohNadine (you were in my dream)”, “Those Days”
Skippable: “What Gives…(i can’t live like this)”, “Ruth”, “Kettle”
Care to give it a listen? You can stream the entire album on Cera’s bandcamp for free here http://michaelceramusic.bandcamp.com/releases a download will cost you $7.