Small Sur: Small Sur
Done well, there’s something to be said for the simplicity of a pleasant male voice and an acoustic guitar. On its self-titled debut, the local folk-rock collective Small Sur crafts mellow, weekend-in-the-mountains ditties that drip introspection like a maple tree oozing sap.
A few tracks sound too much alike—opener “Raining in the Suburbs” and “Second Chances” are built on similar singsong melodies and slow tempos—but the standouts really do stand out. “Big Sur” rollicks along on a subdued guitar line as singer-songwriter Bob Keal murmurs lines such as “Big Sur greeted me like we were old friends, chums since we were kids,” and waxes nostalgic about driftwood shacks and blowing sands.
Possessed of an unusually soothing voice, Keal is a decent lyricist. Neither a black wit like Okkervil River’s Will Sheff or a gnome-hugging hippie like Devendra Banhart, Keal sticks mostly to simple rhyming couplets that echo his guitar’s strum. This strategy works well on album highlight “Spittle,” which includes the bizarrely touching line “My life’s hanging on by the spittle on your lips” and Jordan Dykstra’s elegant viola work. Darker in tone than the rest of Small Sur, “Spittle” adds a welcome element of tension to an otherwise narcotic record. These are songs to fall asleep or fold laundry to, evoking canoes floating on rivers and lazy afternoons at the reservoir—in other words, not groundbreaking, but still pretty good.