Windmill: Puddle City Racing Lights

Sounding like a first cousin to Joanna Newsom or Michael Stipe on helium, Matthew Thomas Dillon (aka Windmill) has an idiosyncratic singing voice that's, shall we say, a bit of an acquired taste. Luckily, the quality of his songwriting justifies whatever effort's needed to grow accustomed to his high-pitched, almost androgynous twang. The album's twelve songs (i.e., “Plastic Pre-Flight Seats”) alternate between restrained vocal-and-piano verses and anthemic choruses that exude the epic sweep of classic pop. In his verses especially, Dillon gravitates towards a melancholy confessional style that recalls the singer-songwriter period of the‘70s, two prime examples the strings-drenched ballads “Boarding Lounges” and the stately and especially lovely “Fashion House.” Though instrumental support comes by way of Ian Smith (Alfie) on drums and members of The Earlies' live band, the album's core instrument is the piano, no matter how much it's sometimes buried under an avalanche of drums and strings (in its quietest moments, the creak of the piano bench is clearly audible, enhancing the intimate bedroom quality of the material). And, though it eschews drums (and loudness in general) altogether, “Replace Me” ends the collection on a splendidly hymnal note. Dillon's voluminous list of influences—The Flaming Lips, Elliott Smith, Counting Crows, Ben Folds Five, Red House Painters, Aimee Mann, R.E.M, among others—offers some hint of his own style on this impressive debut issued by the ever-reliable Melodic Records imprint.

April 2007