After spending nearly five years on the road promoting 2006's Close to Paradise and 2009's Polaris Music Prize-nominated Wooden Arms, Patrick Watson and his band retreated to the Montreal-based singer/songwriter's apartment to craft the appropriately titled "Adventures in Your Own Backyard". Spare, haunting, and emotionally charged, Watson's fourth outing feels a little voyeuristic, like walking in on a character in the midst of a moonlit soliloquy.
The lush chamber pop arrangements that have become his forte over the years are alive and well but respective of the austerity of the project, relegating themselves to the hallway, allowing standout cuts like "The Quiet Crowd", "Lighthouse", and the spooky Antony and the Johnsons-meets-Radiohead-inspired title track the room they need to find an emergency exit should the deal go bad.
Watson's angelic yet occasionally impenetrable voice, which sounds a lot like the aforementioned Antony Hegarty mixed with Appalachian folk legend John Jacob Niles, serves as the foundation for each of the 12 tracks, and his tendency to stretch syllables and bend vowels to his will, like the late Jeff Buckley, makes that voice feel less like a lyric delivery mechanism and more like an instrument.
In the end, it's the subtlety of "Adventures in Your Own Backyard" that will ultimately decide its fate.
The digital age has not been kind to the LP, especially one that requires such patience, but listeners willing to devote an hour -- rather than a rushed five-minute scan of the first 30 seconds of each cut -- to this unassuming little gem will likely want to revisit it again and again. J. C. Monger