Chris Staples, American Soft
Out now, Barsuk Records, chrisstaplesmusic.com
Chris Staples comes from a lineage of Seattle singer/songwriters unfairly labeled as folk. Sure, he’s playing an acoustic guitar, but that’s merely the means he uses to convey his pop sensibility. American Soft’s tracks center on Staples’ vocals and acoustic guitar, though he employs simple drums and synthesizers nearly throughout—a pattern he breaks free from on the instrumental “Wurlitzer,” which reveals his knack for experimental composition, pairing snappy rhythms with arpeggios from the namesake organ. Elsewhere, though he sings just above a warm whisper and doesn’t include any show-off moments, every song is packed with sensational hooks that stick, and you’ll be humming melodies from “Black Tornado” and “Dark Side of the Moon” long after the record ends. Yet for all this, Staples is at his best when he strips a song to its bare bones. Closer “Early Bird Tavern” could be an epic pop-rock anthem, but playing it as an acoustic ballad underscores the heavy weight of its lyrics. He even pays homage here to pop-rock legend Tom Petty with the refrain “You don’t have to live like a refugee.” It’s a true showcase of his talent for doing more with less, and mining the underlying beauty in simplicity.