Single-handed proof that the Pacific Northwest extends as far east as Western Montana, and maybe further, Ryan Rebo’s Lonely Scientist EP arrives as silvery and hushed as its evocative cover art, peering through the windshield and wondering which came first, the big empty landscape or man’s bemused and lonely reaction to it via acoustic guitar. The Northwest will no sooner shake the kinds of melancholy and magical miniatures on display here than it will its rain and snow (key lyric among the EP’s many romantic promises: “I’ll manipulate the weather for you”), and Rebo’s voice, already so fully-formed, makes these five songs much cooler drinks than they might have hinted at on paper.
I’m compelled to compare his voice to Neil Halstead’s, which is a bit surprising, since Halstead led two long-running bands before arriving at the unaffected and faintly husky beaut of a voice heard on his recent folk-inflected solo LPs (an idea: Rebo as the singer in a shoegaze band, resonant under waves of guitar!), while the youthful Rebo’s credits include only a stint leading the Helena, Montana band Broadband Shortwave and a solo debut in 2009 (Dizzy American) before the release of this latest EP. But if the voice is there, it’s there, and Rebo seems to know it, passing off these songs with a deep, steady, tic-less croon.
That’s the star of the show, but the arrangements are nice and understated. “Lonely Scientist” is carried along by metronomic handclaps and then, at the 40-second mark, takes a split-second pause and, on the promise of a beat from the kick drum, brings in a wealth of subtle detail, rephrasing the guitar figure with greater emphasis and filling in its empty spaces (partly courtesy of cellist Erica Quitzow). It’s the most communal moment on the EP; there’s a similarly sparse full-band treatment for all the songs, and while that might be mostly the result of Rebo’s one-man band overdubs, I’d at least like to believe there’s a small party at work on those handclaps, pushing him forward.
The five songs on Lonely Scientist are all originals, but just as good is Rebo’s cover of Daniel Johnston’s “Some Things Last A Long Time,” offered as a free download last December. The world needs one more cover of this song almost as little as it needs another cover of Leonard Cohen’s “Hallelujah.” Half Japanese (whose Jad Fair co-wrote the song), Built To Spill, The Twilight Sad and Beach House have all released versions, the latter two very recently, and others, like Beck and The Swell Season, can be heard delivering those sweet, simple, impossibly clear-eyed verses on YouTube. So “Some Things,” far from overplayed, is the poor man’s hymn to love, as endlessly interpretable as love itself is endless, demanding none of the faux-gravitas that so often mars covers of “Hallelujah,” but only modesty. And that’s Rebo’s greatest trait, come to think of it.