27-year-old Chicago musician Rollin Hunt has been meticulously sculpting a debut LP since his first flurry of demos way back in 2007. It's been a process of fine-tuning and whittling – by his own account he has a stack of recordings waiting to be digitised (though 400 already have been) – where every detail has been scrutinised. He's been properly making noises since the death of his father spurred him on, and over the years he's perfected his craft, learning how to use all manner of instruments to some degree and dissecting pop so that he can put it back together in an original way.
This first full-length record, The Phoney flits through genres, bordering soul, rock, indie, doo-wop and plain ol' pop. 'Criminal' takes 50s rock'n'roll and injects it with lo-fi vocals and chunks of hefty synth-brass. Flighty backing voices and stabs of hacking coughs litter the cut, and there are hints of Bowie in his voice as he slurs lyrics: "The police at the station look at the picture on the wall/ they cannot find him – the criminal." It's a warped effort, with swirling psych keys and a sudden ending. 'Husband' has Hunt plucking away at his first instrument, the bass guitar. He croons lowly/Cash-ly, duetting with an ethereal female vocalist before a barrage of Eastern string shrieks and filthy blues-rock guitars waltz in. It's a menacing track, laced with sneers and danger.
He's definitely taken his time on the record. It's a labour of love, and Hunt is clearly a perfectionist – there's not a note out of place, the mix is precise and he knows exactly when to show restraint or when to pound the throttle. The downside to delving this deep is that he perhaps hasn't taken enough time to look at the bigger picture: the album is disjointed. The peril of attempting so much is that is becomes less cohesive, more akin to a smorgasbord of samples than a strident statement. Each track when isolated is essentially a lesson on how to do that genre, but when you zoom out and listen to the whole thing, there's an awkward flow.
'In The Window' is fantasy folk crossed with chamber-pop: luscious strings worm their way through woodwind melodies as machine gun snares ratatat a march. There's a similarity to Patrick Wolf. Vampiric organs hail the arrival of 'Shooter', a flickering synthpop assault with wartorn samples. While bass and kick line the verses, flourishes of synth mastery interrupt the pure rhythm, geeing up the audio for apocalyptic chorus. 'Trail Of Tears' is a ballad with 'Summer Nights' chords and slide guitar – it's aged doo-wop accompanied by warbled, jangling six-strings and Hunt's marvellous drawl. The chorus boasts twinkling scalic riffs, and it's a welcome break in tone from the slower, more rhythmic verses. It is a bit of a downer to end the record on, though there is an unnamed, violin-led bonus track that recalls Villagers which raises the mood somewhat.
There are some charming songs on offer from Rollin Hunt during the course of The Phoney, and his deviations into 50s pop are excellent inclusions. He tackles a vast array of genres on the record, but unfortunately, the whole is not greater than the sum of its parts, and it feels a bit lost between identities. That said, there are sure to be some brilliant singles that will come off the album, because when the tracks are separated into smaller segments, they are sensational.