Everyone always says it, so let’s get this out of the way now: Fraser A Gorman looks a lot like 60s Bob Dylan. He’s got the black curly hair, the skinny-fit suits and the denim jackets – he even has that same stoic, neither-smiling-nor-frowning-but-slightly-pouting face that Dylan sports on the cover of Highway 61 Revisited. None of which would be important except that it gives you a pretty good idea of what Gorman’s about; easy-going acoustic rock with killer couplets and lots of major chords. Or thereabouts…
In truth, you can hear a number of influences on the 24-year-old Melbournian’s debut album, Slow Gum. On “Dark Eyes,” with its two-chord verse and ‘do do doo’s, Gorman channels the laconic warmth of The Velvet Underground. On “We’re Alright,” he marries soulful brass with a taught, electric guitar line straight out of the Jefferson Airplane songbook and on “Never Gonna Hold You Like I do,” he stirs Motown backing vocals into a cocktail of acoustic strums, gently brushed drums and meandering, Hawaiian surf licks.
But Slow Gum never feels like a tribute or an exercise in nostalgia. On the contrary, it sounds organic and fresh and that’s largely down to the clarity of the production. It’s soaked in slide guitar, the solos glimmer, the vocals echo roundly and the Hammond organ pipes in so cleanly and so smoothly, it’s almost like you’re listening in HD.
There’s a depth to Gorman’s songwriting too. “It’s a big old world out there this morning,” he sings on “Big Old World,” introducing from the very start a flavour of some of the vulnerability that runs through the record. On the same track, Gorman speaks of “a boy from North Melbourne” who “nearly killed himself sipping life from a lead paint-filled balloon,” a dark line which not only demonstrates the songwriter’s talent for wordplay, but which also broadens his appeal beyond that of a mere, two-dimensional singer-songwriter.
Gorman is good mates with Courtney Barnett, a fellow Melbournian in whose videos he’s appeared and with whom he’s frequently toured. Given that Barnett is enjoying a fair amount of critical and commercial success on the back of her own debut, Sometimes I Sit and Think and Sometimes I Just Sit, with any luck, Gorman will repeat the trick.
Slow Gum is a great debut and one which is far more than the sum of its influences. Multi-layered, confident and with a lightness of touch that hints at a songwriting maturity beyond its creator’s years, its breezy Americana not only makes for a fitting summer soundtrack; it’s also a sign of big things to come.
Slow Gum is out now on Milk!/House Anxiety/Marathon Artists.
Top tracks: “Book of Love,” “Dark Eyes,” “Never Gonna Hold You Like I Do”