What are we discussing when we talk about getting older? How are we to look at our lives as we move headlong into our future: as a series of paths through the woods, a fierce resistance to our mortality, ripples in a reflecting pond? Is it linear like a graduated cylinder filling up unit by unit until it tops off, or cyclical like the changing of seasons? Have I run out of clichés? Maybe it is really just getting old, out of touch and lame.
Reaching middle-age offers a unique perspective, in that one arrives at an apex of sorts–an ideal place to survey the landscape and take in the hills and valleys and make note of mile markers. The road extends equally ahead and behind, horizon to horizon. One can take inventory of the memories he carries like stones in his pockets. Some are glossy and smooth, others jagged and jut into his thigh. It is at this convergence of youth and maturity that we find the protagonist of An Intimate Man, the debut release by Brooklyn indie/chamber pop outfit, Glass Valley. This intimate man shares with us the narrative of his own passage into his 40’s, painted like a fever dream.
Writing, composing and co-producing credits for An Intimate Man go to front man, guitarist, bassist, multi-instrumentalist, and utility infielder Bradley Cantor. Though he wears his influences on his sleeve, Cantor’s knack for catchy melodies, atmospheric soundscapes, and smart arrangements create a unique blend of chamber pop melancholia, indie psych-folk and a hint of shoegaze meets blue-eyed soul. Despite the diverse array of influences, there is no stilted hodgepodge. Instead, Glass Valley takes a nice soft-focus approach, giving just enough sonic haze to allow each element to add its own hue to the backdrop without getting out-of-hand. Whether channeling Burt Bacharach at his pop-jazzy standard best (“Golden Age”), echoing Elliot Smith’s heart-driven folk-blues (“Friction Burns”, “Exes Over Eyes”), or catching a Brian Wilson (“When You See Him”) or Steely Dan (“Lucky People”) vibe, we never lose sight of who is telling the story. Cantor demonstrates his impressive musical vocabulary, capturing the nostalgic weight of such heavy and identifiable influences while maintaining an equilibrium with his own voice.
Cantor also deserves kudos for assembling a fine cast of musicians to help craft a very personal and compelling story. Unfortunately, I cannot highlight all of the artists featured on this project because their specific contributions are not all listed. It is noteworthy, however, that Glass Valley tapped James Hanna from Asobi Seksu to co-produce. This influence appears early and often, with pitch bends and plenty of cosmic-sized echo effects. The overall sound of An Intimate Man reaches back in time for Pet Sounds-like grandiosity and marries it with a lounge jazz swing and a dreary yet shimmery quality heard in more contemporary dream-pop. The one outlier track, the (mostly) instrumental “PSRIP”, adds a light-hearted detour that might suit a Wes Anderson film score.
The album closer “Young, Hip and Old” perfectly wraps up Glass Valley’s moment of reflection and introspection. Looking at mountains in the rear-view, Cantor seems burdened by nostalgic loss, leaving him somewhat out-of-step with the changing world around him. We are reminded that “there is nothing left to celebrate,” the decidedly non-poetic sentiment of a man struggling to keep his eyes on the road ahead. As the music fades out, I find myself rooting for the protagonist and hoping he gets his bearings. Perhaps I have a vested interest because, at 38, I am right behind him, but also I think it comes from the draw of the music itself. With indelible hooks and a dusk-lit atmosphere, Glass Valley lulls me into this dream, and I can picture myself sitting right next to this intimate man.