On the cover of his first solo release, Asheville's Joshua Carpenter cradles a rooster in his arms. Since barnyard fowl are for all intents earthbound, Full Flight makes for a slyly ironic, self-deprecating title.
But if the joke is meant to lower our expectations, Full Flight's 10 fine pop songs negate that intent. True, in keeping with the theme of the cover and title, Carpenter's home-recording is a no-frills, lo-fi affair built on a simple template of acoustic strums, electric fills, red-lined bass, crushed percussion and—here's the chief asset—memorable hooks.
It's not quite the record you'd expect from a journeyman who currently drums or plays guitar for the psychedelic country rock act The Hellsayers, the glammy garage punkers Cobra Horse or the Motown/ Trenchtown hybrid Floating Action. While there are elements from all the above scattered here and there, and while the gritty, compressed sonics do resemble Seth Kauffman's hot-mic aesthetic in Floating Action, Full Flight's pedigree instead traces back through songsmiths Tobin Sprout and Matthew Sweet to Robyn Hitchcock and Ray Davies—nostalgia obsessives unafraid to dress their melancholy in pop trappings. "Things to Clean," with its roly-poly bass and tenor-y guitar riff, would be vintage Arthur-era Kinks if they'd recorded on Sprout's four-track; its chorus—"You never run out of things to clean"—tilts optimistic and creepily obsessive. "The Discussion," a lover's rebuke, opens with the bitter declaration, "You know that I want to hurt you/ we both know that I deserve to," but its jaunty beat and glistening fills quickly temper the bile. "Come Sooner the Rain" bounds cheerfully along on handclaps and plump bass lines despite its lost-friendship theme, while the liar's admonition "Bend Your Story" ("I promise it will break," Carpenter warns) wields syncopation like a judge's gavel.
There are missteps you'd expect from a debut homemade solo effort—"Things to Clean" and "Bend Your Story" overstay their welcome by a minute or two, and the bass is awfully prominent. But what impresses most is not just Carpenter's songcraft but the resiliency with which it is delivered.