EP Review: Bill Godfrey — Hypnotized

Out of Austin comes Bill Godfrey. His debut EP is Hypnotized, an intimate and personal five-song set of original songs.

As the opening (title) track begins, the listener might assume that what’s in store is a voice-and-acoustic-guitar number. An appealing one no doubt, but spare in the extreme. But Godfrey has other, more interesting, things in mind. Some lovely and wonderfully evocative strings enter the arrangement within the first minute. Behind Godfrey’s expressive and breathy vocals, a full band arrangement commences around the one-minute mark. The backing – bass, woodblock drumming – is subtle, understand and in keeping with the vocal- forward approach of Godfrey’s song. Tinkling piano and deeply expressive cellos dart in and out the the sonic landscape and the arrangement opens up even more, revealing a dramatic and wholly unexpected sonic landscape.

And then it all stops. The song wraps up as it began, with Godfrey’s plaintive vocal and that crystalline acoustic guitar.

“Sprightly Gentleman” opens with an Americana feel, and once again Godfrey takes the song other places. The arrangement opens up to a kind of field-holler vibe, then segues seamlessly into a warm and funky feel. Then it gets vaguely New Orleans jazzy. Godfrey’s choices of instrumentation are clearly based on the needs of each song, not limited by a traditional rock band format. And his wry lyrics are personal and accessible at once.

“Perfect Place” employs a similar approach: open simply and build from there; this formula – and it’s a solid one – seems to suit Godfrey’s songwriting. “Perfect Place” builds a bit slower than the other tracks, but its soulful, warm feel draws the listener in from the first moments. The metallic resonance of his acoustic guitar – he uses it as a percussion instrument – is an inspired sonic choice.

Banjo introduces “Mama Help Me,” but a clattering, squelchy trip hop ambiance provides the song’s primary character. That device is switched on and off as the song proceeds, reminiscence of the kind of thing Radiohead might do. Some fascinating vocal crosstalk swirls in and out of the arrangement; “Mama Help Me” is easily the most complex and multilayered cut on the EP.

Hypnotized wraps up with “Patiently,” a kind of melodic rethink of Tom Waits’ style, with some gospelish backing vocals, plucked instruments and a lusciously lumbering beat punctuated with sounds of thunder. It’s an alluring number filled with wonderment, and a lovely way to close a rewarding listening experience.