By Alessandro Improta
Paul Travis is a young singer-songwriter from Mapleton, UT in his twenties that has been recording and releasing music since he was 17. Travis released his latest album, Braille, earlier this month, and we here at Reach Provo have been excited to review it. We first really got to know Travis when we saw him at the 2016 Muse Music Songwriter Showdown. We were quickly impressed with his brand of emotional songwriting and his likable, sincere stage presence. As Esque Records described him during his time with the label, he has an outlook of “feelings over finesse.” They’re right. Travis has a rawness to his performance that is subtle, but effective.
Braille is one of those albums where I feel like its depth goes over my head. As many times as I have listened to this album, I still feel like there are layers of meaning that I have not quite peeled back yet. It could be that there is more to it – I like to think so. Every word Travis sings obviously means so much to him and the listener can feel that. But it also could be that I am being fooled by the music and his sincerity and it’s really more simple than it seems. Either way, I enjoy being fooled. This feeling of “not quite getting it” gives the album great relistening value. I find myself wanting to hear it again and again, trying to grasp the minutia of it all. To put this all more succinctly, “This album is deep, man.”
Usually the “singer/songwriter” label is given to anyone who sings and plays the acoustic guitar. Though it may be an accurate descriptor, few people represent that label as well as Paul Travis. Travis is a phenomenal singer who displays control and finesse at every turn. “Return,” to me, displays this beautifully. How often and how smoothly Travis transitions from full voice into a falsetto is spectacular, and spectacularly difficult. The melody in the chorus is also very challenging and he nails it. I will add that it doesn’t sound like there is a whole lot of pitch correction happening in the production here, which makes it all the more impressive.
Travis is even more deservant of the “songwriter” half of the label. Every one of these songs are simple, and yet there is a subtle complexity to them. Melodically they are very interesting, and dynamically they do a lot more than one would expect from the genre. Songs like “Vice” are a result of this. “Vice” starts off with nothing more than Travis singing and playing guitar, and slowly adds elements over the course of 5 minutes. Finally, near the end you have a small orchestra being led by flutes and french horns in a polyphonic beauty that builds until it stops with a soft cymbal crash and makes way for an organ to softly bring it home in the last 30 seconds. Absolutely beautiful songwriting. The orchestration on “Vice” was written by producer Stephen Cope of Studio Studio Dada, making us hope for more Travis/Cope collaborations in the future.
If I have one criticism for the album, it’s that it is a little tough to get through as a whole. For a lot of listeners this won’t be an issue, as most music listeners latch onto and consume one or two singles from an album and call it good. However, there are those of us out there who enjoy albums in their entirety. It gives every song and every line context. For those of us that consume albums, this might not be our favorite. The reason being that every song is a little too similar in feel. It feels like watching a movie where different variations of the same scene are repeated for over an hour. That scene, as good as it may be, will eventually get old. There is not a single bad song on this album. In fact, there isn’t a single okay song on this album. It is made of twelve great songs, each of which captures the listener, and portrays emotion beautifully. It is just difficult to get all the way through twelve slow, emotional songs consecutively. You have to be in the mood for it. Travis has mastered emotional, heartfelt confessionals, nostalgic memory songs, and slowly paced ballads about yearning, heartache, and regret. We’ve called him Provo’s Damien Rice in the past. If this be true, he’s mastered songs in the vein of “Delicate” and “The Blower’s Daughter.” In the future, we’d like to see if he’s capable of a “Cannonball” or – more daringly – an “I Remember.”
I have been impressed with Paul Travis for some time, and Braille only perpetuates this feeling. Though I do criticize the album for its difficulty to play straight through, this is a collection of fantastic songs. I would recommend the album be heard all the way through at least once, and that the entire dozen tracks end up in everyone’s “rainy day” or “reflective” playlists. A brilliant album from a brilliant mind.