November 14, 2002

Out of the Gray

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David Gray achieved critical acclaim with 1999’s White Ladder, and he continues his steady climb toward artistic heights in his newest release, A New Day at Midnight. The trademark Gray style of fusing folk sounds with dance inspired beats into a highly distinctive hybrid of neo-folk/dance-pop prevails on his latest album. His characteristic and original musical approach correlates with the insightful intensity of his own thoughtful and personal lyrics, engaging the listener in an intimate session with the self he conveys through art.

The overall mood never plunges into any extremes; it stays steady at a nice placid and tranquil state. Subtle nuances are evident, however, which Gray is able to express through slight variations in rhythm and electronic embellishments texturing the backdrop of his compositions. The quick-paced beats lightly pepper a love song, conveying the light-hearted skipping sensations of attraction, while ethereal reverberations drift the listener into a daydream and allow for momentary escapism. Whatever the case, structure logically corresponds to content, and pleasing musical harmony ensues throughout.

A noticeable country slant is evident on A New Day at Midnight, but this only works to Gray’s advantage. He forgoes jarring twang in favor of more subdued arrangements, enhancing the quaint, rustic charm of the genre to evoke the sweet sentiments of “Caroline,” “Kangaroo,” and “Easy Way to Cry.” The interweaving of modern digital sounds that blend into the old-fashioned sighs of the strings also do much to put a fresh spin — rather than an overbearing hokey one– on the songs with a dose of the folksy.

Gray’s most commendable efforts appear on soaring, sweeping tracks with the clear intent of transporting the listener to transcendent heights. “Long Distance Call” is an example of this success. With its call “To glide out on the wing/ turn around and sing” and its fanciful rhythmic echoes, the track effortlessly lifts one’s spirits into a mellow reverie. The intriguing “Last Boat to America,” in comparison, is a bit more simplistic in style. Nevertheless, the whimsical, child-like tinkering of a toy piano achieves the same escapist effect. “Knowhere” utilizes the aide of curious drum-and-synthesizer accompaniment and the ironic pun in the title to effectively draw us into the actual ambiguous tone of the lyrics in the song.

A New Day at Midnight rarely falters, and the only moment when it remotely does so occurs during “Dead In the Water.” While the other songs’ content steer more closely toward the personal realm of David Gray the artist, “Dead In the Water” strays from the more intimate personal level into a broader worldly realm. It is well intentioned with its message of overcoming loss, but it’s hard to get involved and you leave with the feeling of having been an aloof, disengaged observer in a remote situation.

But this is only a minor, inconsequential flaw that comes at the very beginning, and the rest of A New Day at Midnight is a remarkable experience that has us wanting to listen to it well into the quiet hours of dawn.

Archived article by Sherry Jun