Billy Harvey, a singer-songwriter from Austin, TX, having released four full-length albums under his own name is obviously a follower of the DIY aesthetic by issuing those albums on his own record label, and then recording them predominantly on a laptop by himself.
Harvey’s style stretches outside of his production methods, which are ingrained in the songs that he writes and performs. Throughout Bearsick the listener hears creaks, odd instrumentation, and, above all, Harvey’s vocals, which fall somewhere between the raspy croak of Jeff Tweedy and the willowy whispers of Elliott Smith.
While the electronic effects peppered in the songs keep the album from falling into simple singer-songwriter fare, Harvey is at his strongest in the more straightforward tunes on the album.
“Scribblers Heart” starts Bearsick off with whispery vocals intertwined with a cleanly picked, descending acoustic guitar line, and while the lyrics are heartfelt, they also lean in the in the somewhat silly arena (“meet me at the gooey center”).
“Impossible Mission” ramps up with fuzzy guitar, background electronic noise and raspy vocals that bear more than a passing resemblance to Wilco. It’s not the only tune on the album that sounds like that great band, with “Poisoning The Pool” and “When I Say Go” also being similar in sound.
After what appears to be a Beck B-side, Harvey returns to acoustic territory with “ImayImay.” A very simply strummed tune with harpsichord-sounding background instrumentation and a catchy chorus, “ImayImay” could be the best song on the album.
Acting as an interlude, “Soft Blade” is a spoken-word-ish tune with a weeping steel guitar, bridging the more plaintive first half of the album with the more upbeat second half. “Leaving for Eugene” is another pretty fingerpicked tune, only hampered by Harvey’s constantly creaking vocals. Charming at first, it’s tough to focus on the melody after hearing it a few times. This could be a great song in the hands of a more assured singer.
Outside of “Soft Blade,” “The Bringdown” is the only other song that lowers the overall quality of Bearsick. A bluesy riff and somewhat inane lyrics (compared to some of Harvey’s other lines) makes it a skipper.
“Everything You Want” ends the album on a solid note. A sad tune, and by the end you wish Harvey would have written more acoustic music and skipped the odd ones. It’s an up-and-down album, but one that’s worth your time.