Playing on Prefix is a feature on KCRW’s Music Blog in which writers from the eclectic music site Prefix hip you to what’s coming out of their computer speakers each week.
In between stints playing guitar for Titus Andronicus, Liam Betson compiled three albums worth of solo material under the moniker Liam the Younger, all of which are being released by Underwater Peoples this year.
But take heed before leaning on your preconceptions about what an over-educated male with an acoustic guitar might sound like, because “After the Graveyard” presents a singer-songwriter for those of us who disdain the current trajectory of singer-songwriters.
His connection to Titus should give you a few clues as to what makes Liam the Younger tick. While Titus is subject to well-earned comparisons to Bruce Springsteen and his triumphant songs of blue-collar living, Betson’s acoustic offerings reach back a bit further to the grainy Woody Guthrie protest songs that paved the way both musically and politically for the Boss to take over. But unlike Guthrie, Betson is in no rush to use his music as a soapbox for political commentary.
Instead, Betson takes his turn disarming many of the criticisms of a solo folk singer, most effectively on “Songs of Living.” He sings, “Just as I realize a lot of people have life hard/ And a guy like me doesn’t bring them any cheer”—talk about knowing your role. If there is one linchpin theme on “After the Graveyard”, it is Betson’s lack of the hubris that steers all too many singer-songwriters over the cliff of accessibility. Any notion of emotional over-sharing is dead on arrival.
Later in the same song, Betson bristles against the popular myth that singer-songwriters are inherently well-read and introspective when he confesses, “Oh poetry, sometimes I don’t read ya.” But like good poetry, Betson crafts lyrics that show—as opposed to tell—his tales. His writing style stems most directly from Jeff Mangum, spilling honest and emotional details out through observations of his surroundings.
I could go on listing the metaphysical narratives that alight Betson’s campfire choruses, or how his humility and perspective make him a powerful voice among contemporary troubadours; but ultimately those serve as little more than fodder for over-analyzing something whose beauty is in its simplicity. Because while his motifs do well to pack some meat on his skeletal arrangements, what gives “After the Graveyard” such remarkable replay-ability is Betson’s casual knack for melody. Few tracks involve more than a single hook, but each is so leisurely and spacious that anything more would have crowded in on its charm.
Mark this down as just one more example of Liam the Younger making something truly powerful by employing the most powerful tool of all—restraint.
Hear the full album on Soundcloud here.
By Kyle Sparks