Alan Scardapane’s first studio album explores a range of styles with melancholic and sometimes devastating lyrics.

The cover of Alan Scardapane’s first studio album is a picture of the open sea. Lonely, barren, desolate—it epitomizes the general feeling of the piece.

And that album, Out at Sea, distills life’s travails, successes, and emotional baggage into manageable, almost tangible pieces.

 

At least conceptually, Scardapane brings emotional, deep-cutting lyrics and a unique, folk-rock sound to his first studio album. It’s a collection of songs he wrote from 2014 to 2018 as he moved around the United States. He brings an upbeat rhythm to his music and shares intimate stories of loss, triumph, success, and, on a couple songs, he puts on a political edge.

Scardapane is a scruffy, folksy man. He sports a full beard and sings songs about loss, innocence, and grief; he seems truly connected to humanity and modesty. Through his appearance and persona, he creates an image and persona of comfort that almost gives him a sense of further credibility in his storytelling.

Scardapane has created a unique-sounding, emotional, independent musical entity. And, stylistically, Scardapane wanders from song to song; calm, ambient, and doleful on the first track, “Sideways”; slow rock on the title track; and a combination of the two on “Just Cause We Dream.” These songs sound, at times, like Sky Blue Sky–era Wilco.

The themes of each song also vary wildly on Out at Sea, ranging from regret on the first track, “Sideways”—“Smoking Camels in the cold / Itching for a Marlboro / And maybe you’ll be fine, y’know? / But it’s no wonder she was taken / Don’t be mistaken, you had waited too long”—to miscarriage on the sixth track, “Meaghan”—“So why’d you choose, the hole and bruise / Over the breath, that was yours to lose,” he sings.

And, on the ninth track, “1955,” Scardapane goes political, speaking at length about issues in the United States—notably comparing the state of our country today to that of the year 1955: “The land of the free, but nowhere’s safe / The black man and his family spend every minute chased / By his neighbors who claim that they don’t see race / Policeman gets a call and puts a bullet in his face.”

The song begins with a shorter intro (just under two minutes), filled with eerie whispering and distorted noises. And, right after, “1955” continues with a lively drum beat and cheerful, almost ambient banjo and guitar strumming. In the background, Scardapane triumphantly belts politically charged lyrics over the dense layers of sound. The euphoric sonic landscape of the track contrasts the subject of the song, demonstrating one of Scardapane’s best skills. Then, at the end, it collapses into silence.

This album is depressing. Scardapane has distilled America’s angst into one tangible space where he and the listeners can find solitude in surrounding himself and themselves with his own and others’ pain. Scardapane shows us that there’s a certain comfort to be found in discomfort.

While the album does begin to sound a bit repetitive—especially on the tracks “Sideways” and “Long, Lonesome Road”—Scardapane’s boldness and honesty in his lyrics shine through and give the album its characteristic melancholy; he very effectively showers the listener in his own definition of comfort.

As stated in his Bandcamp bio, he’s “forever pursuing the idea of home.” Here, Scardapane has none—hinted to by the album’s title. That notion serves as a fitting backdrop to the album.

Alan Scardapane has painted a portrait. The question of what is up to the listener—but it’s clear he specializes in exploring the human spirit.

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