As technology progresses and obstacles disappear, the creation of professional-caliber music has become less a job than a hobby, a form of expression accessible to anyone with the right knowledge and a little time on their hands. It’s also spawned a new breed of modern renaissance men (and women), people who, like Eric Lindley (a.k.a. Careful), not only mewl whispery songs on the modern version of a four-track, but also write poetry, compose orchestral pieces, and paint, still finding time to construct their own robots.
It’s probably unfair to label Careful as indicative of this kind of distracted, multitasking production, especially since he’s clearly talented, but Oh, Light is so ordinary and suffocating in scope as to feel representative of a larger problem. The album’s press release reports that it was recorded in a closet, and this anecdote seems like an inadvertent hint at its problems: preoccupied with its own fragile beauty, unaware of the dozens of other releases that sound just like it.
Today’s computer piloting polymath is yesterday’s acoustic guitarist, and though the albums that have swollen this market are not inherently bad, no more disposed to crappiness or greatness than anything else, their sheer numbers do predispose them to a gray shade of mediocrity. The effects that pervade here, multitracking and the use of various noisemaking baubles, amount to so much empty knob-twisting. And so Oh, Light, never overly concerned with melody or the structures of traditional songs, passes by quickly and quietly, never really making any kind of mark.
The most obvious reference point is the Microphones, from the one-man-adrift-in-nothingness vibe to the heavy use of reverb, but Careful never stretches enough to even approach the air of ragged, uncomfortable anxiety that suffused Phil Elvrum’s voice. Careful’s is a soaring instrument, capable of merging well with electronic fiddling and coasting icily over flat synth waves, but his voice never helps these songs attain any real shape.
The problem may be that the accessibility of making music on your computer has hatched a school of musicians who sound like they do exactly that, coldly efficient gearheads who don’t write songs so much as construct them via building blocks. One prime example here is “Fox and His Friends,” which references the Fassbinder film but in no way embodies any of the feelings it might engender. The film is caustic and harsh, approaching nihilism; the song is springily acoustic and light, with a music box twinkling along in the background. The former might have inspired Careful, but the lack of expressiveness on display here and the aloofness of its unengaging compositions makes that inspiration impossible to trace.