With his first album under the guise of The Northern Key, San Francisco’s Andrew Galluccio (or at least his label) wants desperately to be taken seriously as the latest voice in modern folk. But there’s more to being a folk musician than putting a compass point in your name and slapping some antlers on your album cover.

 

On this self-titled debut, Galluccio gives us a collection of folk-pop songs that his label puts in the same vein as Mark Kozelek, Elliott Smith and Iron And Wine. Talk about expectations. (A word of advice for any aspiring folkies out there: on the first album, shoot for Damien Jurado.)

At its best, on tracks like “Cowboy & Indian” and “Early Morning Recital,” Galluccio offers restless and introspective pieces of bedroom folk. Though not exemplary, the lyrics do the job, and backing vocalist Jen Grady is a nice complement to Galluccio’s hushed, breathy lead vocals. Album closer “The Drift,” an instrumental piece of guitar and cello, is the least adorned track on the album, and serves as a refreshing palate cleanser.

But the ham-fisted production of Chris Chu (of The Morning Benders) casts much of the album in an impenetrable malaise. For something that aspires to be a folk album, too many tracks feel glossy and manufactured. The worst offender, a muffled bit of percussion on “Proof,” “Solid,” and “Spaced Out,” renders three tracks all but unlistenable.

Although his debut record as The Northern Key, it’s worth noting that the album isn’t Galluccio’s first rodeo. According to The Internet (always an infallible resource), he is or was a member of the Bay Area outfit The Red Verse, described as blending “the old sun records sound with fresh new wave post punk guitar.” At one time, he was also one half of a duo called Moniker, which released an electropop album called Westwood in 2004.

It’s no surprise that Galluccio’s previously released work is in other genres, as this album sounds like it’s the work of an artist dipping his toe into unfamiliar waters. There’s certainly something to be said for a musician willing to stretch into new sonic territory, at least in theory. Unfortunately the failure here is in the execution. The production is polished to too high a sheen, buffing out the rough-hewn textures one finds in the best folk music. And the simple arrangements constrain the slicker elements of the production from expanding out into more interesting space.

The patient listener will be rewarded with a few moments of simple beauty, but he or she will have to dig through layers of production to find them. If this is folk music for the next generation of listeners, as the label’s press release boldly declares, it’s only because the next generation is too young to have heard of Mark Kozelek, Elliott Smith and Iron And Wine. Or maybe I’m just getting old.

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