There’s nothing inherently wrong with the self-indulgence that comes in tow with feeling adrift. While it’s true that in order to get back to shore you have to understand what’s keeping you at sea, it can be easy to get lost in that introspection. If I Am Only My Thoughts, the debut album from Canadian lo-fi folk trio Loving, sounds like a group searching for their reflection in the water when they haven’t even left the beach.
Brothers Jesse and Lucas Henderson write their songs around contradictions posed as existential dilemmas. These are often laid out clearly in the titles of each of the album’s 11 tracks; there are musings on solipsism (“If I Am Only My Thoughts”), meditations on perspective (“Visions”) and ruminations on the nature of reality (“Lately In Another Time”). Producer David Parry, meanwhile, adds balmy, bossa nova-indebted instrumentation to the songs, with a shiny finish that sometimes belies the lo-fi production. Together, the tracks just feel a bit too clean, a bit too polished for the type of angsty thematic territory they chart, indulging in themselves when they just haven’t done enough reflection yet. The album shimmers when it still needs some tarnish.
If I Am Only My Thoughts suffers the most when at its least self-aware. “Nihilist Kite Flyer” leaves little room for nuance: “Am I living my life as if I’m flying a kite / Without a string, without any meaning?” lead vocalist Jesse Henderson asks, later invoking the myth of Icarus and asking if he’s “just the one / Drifting too close to the sun.” The track is set to warbling guitars and chords played delicately on a Wurlitzer, and, like several of the other songs here, it sounds a bit too similar to Whitney or Bibio. “Only She Knows,” meanwhile, intends to materialize a sense of longing into the finger-plucked guitar melody, a muted string suite and lyrics pondering the inner-goings of an otherwise identity-less woman. It’s perhaps too easy—and too harsh—to compare Loving to that woman, but the trio should spend more time figuring themselves out than projecting onto their characters.
When Loving let themselves be a bit messier, it yields a more positive result. “Mirror For Two Voices” details a crumbling relationship, but its distant lyrics and melting instrumentation better resembles a dissociative episode. “Would I waste your time / If I gave you mine?” Henderson hums with a self-doubt that rings true over layers of beachy guitars, a distant guiro and pleasantly dissonant strings. The track is humid and sweaty, with every layer melting into one another. It’s a shame, then, that the track closes with an extended outro that attempts to further dismantle the song, stripping everything away but adding what feels like scrapped guitar and piano loops. Meant to reflect the stuck nature of the relationship (“Thoughts thin like air / Stuck in this record of time / Like a conversation going nowhere”), the outro instead sounds like selfish grandstanding during an argument.
The album closes with “Stranger To Yourself,” a blissfully unaware, uptempo track that ties up all of If I Am Only My Thoughts’ central themes with a bow. The vantage point from which it is sung, however, doesn’t feel earned: “All those times you seemed to change, formed opinions / Or lost your mind in a rage / Was that really even you or were you walking in another’s shoes?” It’s a weird note to end on for an album that needs a bit more of its own personality, but it’s sung with the confidence of someone who thinks they’ve got it all figured out.