Who It Is: Focus Ring – Introduction; Tilde Records (2016)
What It Sounds Like: Koji, Paul Baribeau, Frank Sinatra’s emo great-grandchild
Focus Ring is acoustic, Focus Ring is stripped down, and Focus Ring is emo. Focus Ring is Eric Paulson at his most vulnerable. And this, well – this is an Introduction.
Introduction does a great job at establishing a sound and exploring the various aspects of it. For those familiar with Paulson’s main band, Remo Drive, there will be a familiar gruffness to the vocals, though they’re laid back enough to match the acoustic guitar. Passion flows throughout the album in both areas of higher intensity and the more subdued moments.
The songs with the most energy are the ones that stand out. The opener, “Shaky Hands,” is a prime example of this. A frantically strumming guitar opens up the track, before the vocals come in with a similar sense of urgency. While his hands and his voice seem to be racing against each other, the performance of each is far from shaky.
The follow-up track is much slower. This makes it sound as if it would be out of place, but the transition is well done. Flow is important for any record and it is clear that much thought has been put into it for this one. These less frantic tracks enforce the emotion behind Focus Ring’s music, with Paulson giving off the air of a slightly abrasive crooner. However, there are times when the tempo is drawn a bit too far back, and though the guitar is matched well Paulson’s voice feels a bit too rough and out of place.
The falsetto sections are the biggest downside to the record. They feel too forced and just don’t fit nicely into the singer’s vocal range. That being said, these sections are generally short enough where they do not ruin the song or the experience, though there would be a definite improvement if they fit more snugly into vocal register.
“Tape” is the grand finale of Introduction and is a real gem. An almost spooky rhythm and flow accompanies the opening line, “You are my cassette tape / cuz everybody knows / that you’re a piece of shit / yet they seem to love you anyway.” This format-based metaphor continues into the second chorus, which beings with the line “I’m no vinyl / but at least I’m consistent / I’m always here for you regardless of the day.” Lyrically, this song is wonderfully put together. It structurally comes full circle when the first verse is repeated more slowly and stripped down, but in a grander fashion, bringing the album to a close.
Introduction lays a strong foundation as the first full-length from Focus Ring. It is filled with solid performances and thoughtful lyrics, creating a comforting personal vibe. If acoustic emo jams are your fancy, it would serve you well to check this album out.
You Should Probably Listen To: “Tape,” “Shaky Hands,” “Clouds Over Sun”
Overall Rating: 7.1/10