Review – “Amateur” – Isaac Vallentin

reviewed by Laura Stanley 

It’s fitting that Isaac Vallentin is selling a chapbook to accompany his sophomore album, Amateur. The chapbook contains the album’s lyrics which are short stories themselves. There’s a lonely universe wanderer, a heart-broken bicyclist banker, a disillusioned dancer. All characters detailed enough for stories but live inside this album.

Where Vallentin’s debut Hedera was an electronics record that flirted with folk—he tags his record as “electrofolk” on Bandcamp—Amateur flirts with lots of sounds. On some tracks Vallentin is alone with his acoustic guitar while others are full band playful rock and pop songs. Highlight “Nowhere To Be Found” (we premiered the track last month) bops with light instrumentation, “Flying Pigeon,” evolves into a bustling, piano-rock track and the closer, “Answer Your Call” uses a muted palette – everything sounds like it’s being heard through the receiver of a rotary dial phone. Vallentin is not content to be one-dimensional.

And his narratives are the same way. The specific details Vallentin includes in each song illuminates his characters. In chapter one, we hear of “Carol,” a young girl who is abused—the bruises down her neck are a chilling detail. “May careful hands protect her beauty better than they did this time,” Vallentin prays. On “Flying Pigeon” we join the aforementioned biking banker in a brief recollection at the side of highway. His wife left him for his handsome dentist brother. He even remembers the socks he was wearing when she said she was leaving him. It’s heartbreaking.

About mid-way through Amateur lies “Loudest in the Universe.” It’s a song about a songwriter so it’s hard not to think that it’s a song about Vallentin himself. Maybe it is. To welcome us, Vallentin’s low timber is offset by the blissful higher resister of Allie O’Manique (Trails) and together they sing, “I wish this song was loudest in the universe.” In a magnificent twist, “Loudest in the Universe,” is a quiet track. We hear about a relationship’s rough patch where both parties are hurting but one party is at fault. Vallentin works a glimmer of hope though into it. Certainly not the work of an amateur.

Top Tracks: “Nowhere to be Found”; “Loudest in the Universe”

Rating: Proud Hoot (Really Good)

Issac and his band will be celebrating the record’s release with a handful of shows:

June 28 – Montréal, at O Patro Vys
June 29 – Toronto, at Northern Contemporary
June 30 – Ottawa, at General Assembly

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