"Written and produced by Gilbert Neal," read both the back cover and the liner notes of Our Deepest Apathy..., the sophomore effort from Hillsborough songwriter Gilbert Neal, in bold, blocky, white, capital letters. Ah, the autocrat: Like most artistic disciplines, music beguiles us with the works of its lone wolves, those feverish or fastidious minds that create brilliant pieces that remain theirs alone—unfiltered, unabridged, unadulterated. Classical music offers tales of impassioned, solitary fits of composition, just as pop supplies stories of the vanquished artist emerging with a masterpiece.
Despite Neal's done-did-it-myself proclamation and the 14-track, 70-minute ambitions of Apathy, he badly needs a foil. Nearly every element of the trite, monotone Apathy begs for a little alteration, whether it come through edits or additions. The verses feel like the choruses because the production lacks most signs of dynamics, especially as the songs push into what feels like an eternity. To wit, only one track doesn't break the three-minute mark, while seven cruise to or beyond the five-minute mark, forgoing stop signs for meandering hook repetition and moaning, sleazy electric guitar leads that seem lifted from a skin flick score. The drums pound away in a faux-funk stomp, as Neal vacillates between a woebegone piano man ("Bubble," "Welcome to America") and a swaggering Stevie Wonder acolyte ("Downtown," "What Fresh Hell Is This?"). Halfway in, Apathy is repetitive wash.
These, of course, are sonic and structural issues. Lyrically, Neal occasionally stumbles upon some nugget, whether it's wondering if "blindness in a storm is its own reward" during "Downtown" or casually slipping words like Byzantine, gestalt and Zamani into his tunes. Then, of course, he rhymes "stuff of fantasies" with "carnal expertise" without irony and "I know a man from Raleigh/ he stands there with a sign" with "People think he's lost his frigging mind" without a wink. Writing and producing are grand. So is editing.