CD Review: Robert N. Paulson-Where am I?

robertnpaulson.bandcamp.com

With his latest effort, Where Am I?, Robert N. Paulson creates a hauntingly beautiful brand of piano rock that feels more like a dream than a linear story, allowing the emotion of Paulson’s reverb-drenched piano and hypnotic percussion to evoke a journey of anxiety and unfamiliarity.

The album opens with the aptly titled, “Worry”, a haunting overture with atmospheric piano and jazzy drums with discordant notes, stressing anxiety and “worry” that heartbreakingly never resolves to a major chord. Paulson sings, “All I can do is worry about you”, reminiscent of Whatever and Ever Amen-era Ben Folds. The mood picks up with the finger snap-driven “Worst” before slowing back down with the instrumental “Herb Gamber”. At this point in the record, I’m convinced Paulson isn’t telling a story, but rather providing a soundtrack for listeners to dream about unfamiliar places and uncertainty.

The next two songs are the album’s downfall, as Paulson uses a distractingly large amount of reverb on his only acoustic guitar-driven song, “Lasher Hatchery” that unfortunately detracts from the most lyric-heavy song on the album. “Strange Day” is eerie and hypnotic, but draws out a bit too long. If Paulson ever wants to release a quote-unquote “single” off this record, it would likely be the next song, “Strange Places”. The song postulates themes like money and “living in the free information age”, with upbeat instrumentation reminscent of early Death Cab. Finally, Paulson reconciles the sunny “Strange Places” with the slower, atmospheric musings of previous songs in the instrumental closer “Stranger”, and, to me, provides the resolution I’ve been waiting for to the anxious opener, “Worry.”

 

Overall, Paulson’s delicate piano and raw drums evoke cavernous soundscapes that listeners can lose themselves in, like a dream. His lyrics are sometimes buried amongst instrumentation, but with some solid production, I can see him taking his atmospheric piano rock to big places.