Let’s just make a quick generalization here, and say that Arturo in Letto’s lightweight Musical Explosion is a prime victim of Athens’ supportive music scene: its opening tracks “Vorrei Cookies” and “Ciao Marco” are precisely the kind of tunes friends and acquaintances love but which make no substantial connection with an audience beyond that circle. Getting giggles out of classmates with pointless ditties sung in the Italian present conditional is an easy, fleeting thing to do—writing memorable, clever songs is much harder.
Luckily AJ Weiss, the songwriter and musician who records and performs as Arturo in Letto, has the ability to do that, as proven by all the songs that come after that cringe-worthy opening salvo. Those first two need to go. The buoyant vocal melodies, pokey drum machines and mellow guitar strumming of “No Longer an Option” borrow from European balladeers of the ’60s and ’70s as well as the confessionalism of recent of Montreal. Weiss’ vocal delivery is thin but emotive—a young Conor Oberst without the quaver—and his songs are improved by wobbly little sound effects, as on “Tweed Houndstooth.”
“Desert Sun” shows what Weiss can do when he fills out his arrangements with both brass instruments and squirrelly guitar tones that nod towards NES-era ’80s videogame soundtracks. “Circumstances Are Often Temporary” puts a little oomph into Weiss’ delivery, which vacillates between charmingly fey and unsatisfyingly limp.
Musical Explosion‘s a promising collection of demo tunes passing notes to itself. It could use both judicious editing and more directed embellishment. Weiss should relish doing his own thing; he should consider, though, recruiting collaborators willing and able to offer ideas, and also call him out on his lame ones.
Arturo In Letto is playing at Caledonia Lounge on Wednesday, Jan. 12.
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