Eric Ayotte - Transparency (Cover Artwork)
Staff Review

Eric Ayotte

Transparency (2014)

Plan-it-X / BrownTown / Pike

Raised near Albany, NY, Eric Ayotte ended up in my former hometown of Bloomington, IN and there cut his musical teeth. Long associated with the Plan-It-X label and the local scene of punk and folk punk, Ayotte has been dedicated to honing his craft and has been going at it solo for quite awhile. Ayotte plays the kind of honest indie folk that any fan of the Mountain Goats would dig, and -- especially with this fleshed out, full-band backed set -- fans of The Weakerthans, Neutral Milk Hotel, Andrew Jackson Jihad or Defiance, Ohio would appreciate.

Since 2007’s Odds & Ends, Ayotte has cranked out a handful of 7-inch records and this, Transparency, is his fourth full-length album. Practically a nomad, being solo has allowed him to tour as much as he wants, which is nearly nonstop including a recent three month extensive US tour, backed up vocally by his girlfriend Charlie Jones who also appears on this album. Ayotte brings with him the Gadabout Film Festival (which he created and is produced by him and Jones) comprised of his and others’ indie short films, shot DIY punk rock style -- quickly and grouped in different themes -- shown in punk venues and peoples’ homes. He’s heading out again soon with his music and the films, digging into the UK for two weeks in January 2015. Basically, this dude’s a workhorse and endlessly creative and ambitious.

Let’s dive into the music contained on Transparency, released digitally in June but more recently on vinyl. My favorite track is “Get to Stepping,” a midtempo 6/8 tune with an incredible chorus hook and awesome electric piano backing by Matt Romy, a strong songwriter in his own right, leading bands such as Community Currency and formerly The Delicious, among others. “Chen” is the most heartbreaking song I heard in 2014, about Ayotte having to put his cat down. If the lines “The nurse the came in, told me it was time / I was shaking I was cryin’ / Watching the life leave your eyes / Dear friend of mine” don’t make you tear up at least a little bit, you better check your pulse.

Ayotte’s voice is a unique and distinctive characteristic of the music, and is instantly recognizable to those familiar with him. But a unique voice can carry with it a divisive nature and turn some people off. But on this record, he’s refined his vocals to be less nasal and become an even stronger singer, so I feel this will be less of an issue than it may have been with his other records, 2010’s Wavering being the one I’m most familiar with.

More strong tracks include “You Alone,” which mixes up the feel of the album at track four, getting -- dare I say it -- a little bit funky. The relaxed groove and prominent bass part fuel the verses, and as one of the few songs of the set with louder electric guitar (albeit clean electric), it’s in the perfect spot on the tracklist to add variety. Immediately after “You Alone,” the tempo kicks back up with the extremely Weakerthansesque “And Yet, Here We Are.” An instantly likeable melody flies over top of furious acoustic strums, tasteful electric backing and filled in with gospel organ chords making this another favorite. “Honesty, Honestly” is rewarding throughout, especially when the bridge breaks it down and takes the song in a whole new direction with a cool, simple, dark, noodly guitar riff.

The drums are occasionally overplayed for the style of the tunes, as on “Prove It Bartholdi” with the verse hi-hat work played too fast to be appropriate for the tune; it gets in the way of the guitar strum patterns. Same problem in “Bug Bully.” The rim clicks on “Patrimony” are a bit much as well. But I can’t fault Ricardo Martins a whole lot because he does have a lot of good ideas elsewhere on the album and is a solid player. And he sure does his damnedest to make the drum parts interesting on a folk record, a genre where they often aren’t.

Transparency is Ayotte’s strongest record to date, a varied yet cohesive record with fully realized melodies and arrangements. It stumbles a few times, but the weak points are few and far between. It will appeal to a wide range of people, from fans of gritty folk punk to fans of more polished indie rock. This guy works too hard for you not to give him a chance.