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Posted June 5, 2008 by Mike Mineo in Features
 
 

A Beautiful Setting Sun

Though they seem to be in the minority these days, some songwriters are just better off writing songs on their own. In addition to having more helping hands available in the process of writing and recording material, bands can provide a stable source of personal and artistic support for a lead songwriter who may be in dire need of it. However, they can also provide the exact opposite in disrupting an artistic vision in order to provide for their own weaker version; gathering up a group of talented musicians who hold a similar vision as the lead songwriter is an arduous feat that is often determined by chance. This level of cooperation can vary from artist to artist and it certainly has nothing to do with their congeniality or morality, but simply how well they work together with other people when writing music. For most artists, the discovery of whether or not they work most efficiently in a group or isolated environment is determined after attempting both circumstances. Finding success in the first group or project one forms is extremely rare, often only achieved by individuals who exceed standards of creativity. After all, a colossal success is rare to come by when a failure has not preceded it.

Gary Levitt has spent over a decade in various projects, gaining experience while witnessing the highs and lows of being both a songwriter in a group and solo project. In fact, as far as being a member in a band goes, Levitt has experienced life in a quartet, a trio, and a duo. He has seen a reasonable share of success from each of them but none has reached the recognition or level of potential that his solo project, Setting Sun, has provided since the release of his debut album, holed up, in 2002. Levitt’s first foray came when he was situated in New York during the ‘90s. Consisting of a revolving lineup, he served as one of the founding members of The Kung-Fu Grip. The group remained in New York four 4 years and toured frequently throughout the East Coast before making their way out to San Francisco. While there, they cut out all excess pieces and reverted to being a tightly focused trio. Around the same time, Levitt met Erica Quitzow and they formed the indie-pop duo Heavy Pebble together. Along with The Kung-Fu Grip, Levitt started making a name for himself on the West Coast with several releases and a busy touring schedule. When Levitt felt that he had the confidence and experience necessary to try his hand at something new and on his own, both groups disbanded and he formed Setting Sun.

After secluding himself in an apartment with some gear and two cheap microphones, he emerged in 2002 with holed up, Setting Sun’s debut. It showcased Levitt’s reverence for lo-fi folk and pop music, with an acoustic guitar often guiding the way over alternating crescendos. Holed up caught the attention of Virgin recording artist and Furslide frontwoman Jennifer Turner and she invited him to London to play guitar for her band Inner. He stayed for a bit and wrote two songs for their debut album, lovetheonlyway, before returning home to resume work on his solo material. Upon his return, the release of holed up had captured an increasing amount of attention to coincide with Setting Sun’s rampant tour as a three-piece. Around the same time, Levitt also began performing solo every night with his acoustical charm. His second album, Math and Magic, followed in 2005 and capitalized upon the potential that holed up displayed. Produced by Richard Chiu, it was a more expansive release that saw Levitt’s songwriting embrace a more polished soundscape. Despite their differences though, both albums hold up and one can easily find the enjoyment in the lo-fi charm of holed up and the evolutionary blend of folk and pop in Math and Magic.

For his third and most enjoyable album to date, Levitt has assembled an impressively wide array of experience to produce a sound that fulfills all expectations that were provided by the potential of his first two albums. Set to be released on June 10th, Children of the Wild features 11 tracks that show Levitt’s best songwriting to date. The urging thump of “No Devil me no More” provides exceptional use of the cello, with an underlying bass line and forceful percussive response complementing the experimental string use even more. The track features collaborator and label-mate Erica Quitzow on vocals, a role she reprises for a handful of very memorable tracks throughout the album. The true standout of the album for me though is “How Long”, a magnificent track that concurrently manages to be romantically touching and exceptionally infectious. “I hope you feel the same, feel the same, as you’re whistling my name,” Levitt sings somberly, backed by an impressive acoustical progression and steadfast rhythm section. “How long, how long,” Levitt and Quitzow sing in a duet during the chorus, providing a beautiful rendition that may even soak the eyes. Comparisons to The Magic Numbers and folk-pop groups of the ’70s are prevalent and certainly welcome in this case. The track manages to remain in the conventional realm of folk with amiable elements of indie-pop peaking through, mainly through the vocal execution and use of strings.

“Carry me Away” is one of the most straightforward tracks on Children of the Wild but it still manages to feature an ardently impressive chorus in addition to being a further display of Levitt’s lyrical prowess. As the song’s topic of romantic indecision wears thick, Levitt’s repeated sentiment of “enchanting, romancing you” is one that he fulfills extremely well through his delicately crafted songwriting. He now resides in upstate New York but the word is beginning to spread quickly. When Children of the Wild is released in a few weeks, I strongly recommend it as being one of the most straightforwardly enjoyable folk albums of the year so far.

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Setting Sun – How Long

[audio:http://mineorecords.com/mp3/ssun-how.mp3]

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Setting Sun – No Devil me no More

[audio:http://mineorecords.com/mp3/ssun-nod.mp3]

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Setting Sun – Carry me Away

[audio:http://mineorecords.com/mp3/ssun-car.mp3]

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Mike Mineo

 
I'm the founder/editor of Obscure Sound. I used to write for PopMatters and Stylus Magazine. Send your music to [email protected].