Richard Buckner’s Surrounded follows 2011’s fantastic Our Blood by a more laid back approach.
Surrounded flows more freely than its predecessor. The opening title track features mostly Buckner and acoustic guitar. Dashes of backing vocals add depth at key moments, but this album foregoes the much of the studio production that molded Our Blood into its brooding form.
This leads to Surrounded being a more inviting listening experience. Buckner retains his signature ghostly aesthetic while trading the claustrophobic qualities of previous material for an airy and vaporous sound. “When You Tell Me How It Is” shares the urgency of the songs on Our Blood, but the main melody is allowed to ring and accompanying accordion reinforces the natural sound.
Surrounded’s best song is “Foundation.” The opening crescendo into the lyrics “I was alive” is immediately engrossing. The brighter sound of this album makes the opening line sound revelatory — almost celebratory — before Buckner tempers it with “but a vision left alone.”
The lyrics Buckner has written for these nine songs are take from a larger text (which was not available to this reviewer) leading to them being vague, but they’re interesting enough to drive listeners to the liner notes to read them in context.
Surrounded has more depth, prettier songs and an ease about it that make it objectively better than Our Blood, but the latter’s compelling reams of tension make it more exciting and more memorable.
Buckner seems to be the third in a recent trend from Merge Records that includes Superchunk and Mount Moriah. All three released albums in 2013 (Surrounded, I Hate Music, and Miracle Temple) that are arguable better than the band’s previous release (Our Blood, Majesty Shredding, Mount Moriah), but lack the uncommon energy that make their predecessors irresistible and unique.
Surrounded is out today on Merge Records.