As half of the duo Arthur & Yu, Grant Olsen crafted a gauzy neo-psychedelic sound with lovely vocal harmonies and plenty of warmth. The Ornament, his first album under the name Gold Leaves, finds Olsen in solo project mode, playing and singing a much more intimate and orchestrated brand of beardy, reverb folk. With the help of fellow sonic traveler Jason Quever of Papercuts, Olsen layers every inch of the record with guitars, keyboards, vocals, and percussion in a very pleasing way that mixes seemingly contradictory styles like doo wop, orchestral pop, and singer/songwriter-ish country into a coherent sound. Quever’s mix is just right, letting instruments be heard but still blending them together into a foggy maze, while Olsen’s voice rises above it nobly. While the duo manages to create a lovely sound and feel throughout the album, the catch is that the songs rarely rise above pleasant and Olsen at times seems to be channeling M. Ward's vocal mannerisms to the point where you might be able to fool even the staunchest fans that they were listening to a new M. Ward song. And when he’s not doing M. Ward, his voice sounds uncannily like Echo & the Bunnymen's Ian McCulloch. It could be a coincidence, but on songs like “Hanging Window” and “The Companion,” he sings in the same halting, velvety croon that McCulloch does, and it is fatally distracting. Again, it may just be a fluke, but to anyone who’s heard much M. Ward or Echo, it’s enough to make the record a tough listen. Which is too bad, because there are many points in The Ornament's favor and there are moments, like on the lilting “Cruel/Kind” and the dusty ballad “Futures,” when you can look past the vocals and let the melancholy melodies and rich arrangements move you a bit. These fleeting glimpses of originality aren’t enough to save the album, though, and until Olsen discovers his own voice, you’d be better served by listening to music by the artists he borrows from so heavily.
© Tim Sendra /TiVo