By: Ginny Yang
It’s fitting that Paul Duncan has lived in both Texas and New York. On Be Careful What You Call Home, the singer/songwriter attempts to marry (sans shotgun) traditional folk and avant-pop with both sun-drenched acoustic arrangements and experimental studio flourishes. Subdued vocals lilt over otherwise minimal instrumentals, and intimate melodies, crafted in the vein of Iron & Wine and Nick Drake, blend with everyday atmospherics, as on the raindrop-filled intro of “Toy Bell.” Duncan bolsters the tinkling folk-jazz set with a range of chimes, banjos, and electronic effects.
Whether admitting that he’s been drinking in “Oil in the Fields” or begging someone to “forget about me” in “This Old House,” Duncan fills his sophomore effort with a mix of confessions and gentle warnings, often conveying a sense of quiet emptiness. “Songs in the distant night saying hello to us,” he sings in “Content to Burn.” “If you don’t say a word, it could be good like this.” On “The Night Gives No Applause,” the lyrics remain disarmingly vague: “I’ll be back in time to watch Jeopardy after I’ve searched for a cause / When the crowd screams ‘Someone shepherd me,’ the night gives no applause.” Meanwhile, “Tired and Beholden” is a finger-picked stunner about remorse and dissatisfaction that would feel at home on Beck’s Sea Change. But Duncan never seems to feel at home, and that pervasive discomfort constitutes the cornerstone of his recorded Home.