Album Review: Patrick Watson, ‘Love Songs for Robots’
What's the opposite of "heavy" music? Words that typically come to mind are "gentle" or "mellow." But there's a huge difference between passive music and music whose soft touch grips with an intensity that it makes for a different kind of "heavy." Take, for example, the power in Joni Mitchell or Tracy Chapman's work. Or Montreal-based singer-songwriter Patrick Watson's fifth album Love Songs for Robots. There are spots on this this album that are so quiet they would typically prompt listeners to turn up the volume or lean-in closer to the speakers, but you won't have to do either.
Watson and his band manage to create an atmosphere so utterly enveloping that they pull your attention toward them like a tractor beam. In the process, they blend folk, grand orchestral pop along the lines of Sea Change-era Beck, feather-touch psychedelia that hits close to same ballpark as Tame Impala or Doves, and shades of dreamlike twang reminiscent of Daniel Lanois' solo work. Meanwhile, guitarist Joe Grass, bassist Mishka Stein and drummer Robbie Kuster play off each other like a seasoned jazz ensemble.
With a resume that includes 15 film and TV scores, it's no surprise that Watson can sustain a consistent mood while also providing enough peaks and valleys to keep listeners onboard from Love Songs' opening note to its final, exquisitely elongated fade-out. In a statement issued by his publicist upon the album's release, Watson said that this time around he "wanted to make a science fiction R&B meets Vangelis erotica with a zest of folk kind of record.” The truth is that the finished results come together in way less gimmicky a fashion than what he's describing.
In fact, none of the genre fusions on Love Songs for Robots convey even a hint of calculation. Perhaps that's because, halfway through making the album (between sessions in L.A. and Montreal), Watson realized that he was having what he succinctly described as a "bad year." Watson explained that his own response to this difficult period got him "thinking about how emotional reactions were more mechanical than we think, and that the only thing left between us and artificial intelligence is the act of inspiration.”
Said inspiration -- which this album contains in spades -- accounts for why Love Songs for Robots sounds so thoroughly and undeniably human in spite of its name.