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Joshua Hyslop
(exclaim.ca)

Album Review: In Deepest Blue – Joshua Hyslop

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In Deepest Blue is the new album by West Coast singer-songwriter Joshua Hyslop. It follows his 2012 debut, Where the Mountain Meets the Valley, and does not stray from his well-established mellow indie folk sound. The cover art for the album is an appropriate depiction of the music within: A steel-blue watercolor painting of the shore with dark clouds on the top and few rocks at the bottom. Like the music, it is very pretty and very soothing, but also empty. In Deepest Blue presents itself as a raging swell, but in reality is more of a puddle.

The album opens with gentle plucked acoustic guitars and mandolin melody in “The Flood,” before Hyslop’s breathy vocals enter with lyrics about love and loss. Track two, “Falling,” follows the same formula, but with the addition of a haunting pedal steel guitar. Hyslop is a very technically talented singer, with light, breathy vocals reminiscent of Belle and Sebastian or Nick Drake. His vocals add gentleness and warmth to the songs, but they are also one of the albums largest flaws. Hyslop sings about complex topics, but he does not have the vocal compassion and charisma to sound convincing. This results in songs that sound shallow and clichéd instead of nuanced and heartfelt. His lyrics also rarely dive deeper into the subjects he’s singing about, and as a result, when he claims that “I’ve loved, I’ve lost,” it is hard to believe him.

Though In Deepest Blue is far from perfect, it does have many good moments: Chiefly the production, which is easily the highlight of the album. Hyslop takes advantage of a huge variety of instruments, including the banjo and organ, and blends them together to create a soothing folk sound. Also, tracks such as “Living and Dying” and “Instrumental” feature gorgeous intricately fingerpicked guitar parts that are sure to appeal to musicians and folk fans.

In Deepest Blue exhibits Hyslop’s strengths and potential as an artist, but it ultimately falls short of its target. Hyslop’s songs are pleasantly folky and easy to listen to, but they lack the passion and emotional depth that a singer-songwriter needs in order to be memorable and sing with conviction. The juxtaposition of the flat vocals with impersonal lyrics just makes Hyslop not much more than a guy at the open mic who takes himself far too seriously.

Standout Track:

“Gone”

Sounds Like:

The Tallest Man on Earth, Bon Iver, Nick Drake

Would be better if:

Hyslop put more emotion into his vocals

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