Justin Vellucci - Terminal Harbor (Cover Artwork)

Justin Vellucci

Terminal Harbor (2007)

Secret Decoder

Justin Vellucci seems to be privy to the same muses that inspired (Smog)'s early recordings, only while Bill Callahan's work exuded a sort of bizarre sense of humor, Vellucci's work is lonesome and detached. Terminal Harbor sounds as if it were recorded in the boiler room of some abandoned building where the rusted pipes and decrepit machinery still faintly groan in the background. It's an engrossing mix of clean and lo-fi that brings together simple, mechanical percussion, acoustic guitars, intimate vocals, and layers of fuzz that reside somewhere between Neutral Milk Hotel and bare bones industrial music.

Like those already mentioned early recordings of (Smog), Vellucci's tracks are experimental, yet strangely song-centric. The recording techniques and tones are often abrasive or contradictory, but underneath is a simple tuneful spirit that acts as the caked and yellowing glue holding the jumble of sounds together.

Opener "Spine of Two Seas" is a clanging mix of acoustic guitar, foot-stomping percussion, and megaphone vocals that sounds alienated and reclusive despite its squalls of feedback and distorted laments. Later, tracks like "The Cloud Machines" and "This Is No Confession" may feature softer, clearer vocals that hint at a love of Elliott Smith, but the music is still a mix of fuzzy, scratchy beats and up-tempo acoustics.

The album's final two tracks yield the most variation. The first, "Morrowfield" seems to reside in the same headspace as early Why? recordings thanks to a sort of sing-speak delivery and some extra effects on the guitar, while the closer, "For Her" goes sans percussion for an eerie ballad that sounds like a more direct Ris Paul Ric.

While Vellucci's techniques are refreshing and intimate, he sometimes lets his ideas roam a bit too freely, a characteristic that leads to lengthy tracks and stale moments. It seems his songs would benefit from a more strenuous editing process, but even as is, they offer a rare blend of mad scientist tinkering and bedroom troubadour songcraft that is as accessible as it is worthy of investigation.