Pete Francis - The Movie We Are In
Record Label: Scrapper Records
Release Date: May 18, 2010
An artist will never fully define himself/herself if they don't chase down something different, bold and new. That seems to be the modus operandi for Brooklyn singer-songwriter Pete Francis. Nearly ten years removed from his days in reggae, cult superstars Dispatch, the singer has put to rest his acoustic sensibilities in favor of something a bit more daring.
Working with producer Jeff Trott (Sheryl Crow, et al), he adds layers of machinated effects, from drum loops to ambient swirls to celestial keys. It's a comfortable veneer that allows his dry and woody voice to swim around in a vortex of gauze and gossamer. But yet for all the studio tricks, Francis sounds best on the Van Morrison sendup "Light Up My Day," complemented by a lifting pocket horn section and a playful chorus. For all the album's many charms, none are as engaging or as heavenly as this brassy valentine.
Francis tries his best to be earnest and sincere, but perhaps a bit too much. Take for instance, the mildly boring "Cartoon Sharks," which offers up inane insight such as, "I am the president of my own election" and "Cartoon sharks are tearing at my necklace again," Thankfully the song is rescued by woozy and hypnotic movements, thumping drums and plaintive guitars. But to be frank, the chorus is limp and the song goes nowhere. "Cartoon Sharks," is admittedly one of the album's weaker moments and a meek introduction to an artist trying to re-invent himself.
Better examples of his more nuanced sound are the intoxicating "Glue," the buzzing "Light Years," and the introspective "Red Cloud Road." On the album's second half the apex is most assuredly the Dylan-esque "St. Paul's Fair," and the autumnal closer "I Didn't Know I Built It," which is arguably his finest composition to date. The aforementioned "You Light Up My Day," appears in this latter half but is surrounded by the banal "Yellow Bird," and the repetitive and mildly annoying "Constant Fire."
For all its hiccups and missteps, The Movie We Are In is assuredly simple and far from heavy-handed. These are gnomic pop songs with little fluff and lots of substance. Though his lyrics are at times confusing and surreal, he at least chases down something thought-provoking and left-of-center. In an age when far too many musicians want to play it safe, Francis certainly deserves kudos for stepping out of the shadow of his former self and trying to craft something novel. Though The Movie We Are In is admittedly pleasant in places, he still needs a bit more time to sort it all out. If this album's successor isn't a knockout, then maybe an album of jazz standards is in the works. "Light Up My Day" proves that such an idea would not be a tall order.