Inspiration is a funny thing. Generally, an artist cannot function without it. But relying too much on the genius of heroes is to risk losing sight of oneself. It is a fine line to walk, especially for inexperienced artists. On his debut album, The Night of Arrows, local songwriter David Kaczynski struggles to transcend, or even filter, the imprint of his influences. The result is a record that, while speckled with fleeting promise, wilts in the shadow of giants.
Following an awkward, 30-second intro track consisting solely of electric slap bass — imagine the soundtrack to “Seinfeld” — the album begins in earnest with “Static.” Over sparse, casually strummed acoustic guitar, Kaczynski intones a rounded baritone, not unlike Sun Kil Moon’s Mark Kozalek. His croon is easy and baleful, but he occasionally overestimates his ability, souring sweet moments with ill-advised ornamental runs that result in unfortunate lapses in pitch. Lyrically, he is straightforward but not obtuse, which fits the song’s bleary-eyed vibe.
“If That’s What It Takes” lays bare an affinity for Elliott Smith as Kaczynski employs the late songwriter’s signature double-tracked vocal effect. But given his issues with intonation, the studio trickery backfires. Instead of one off-key vocal line, we get two, in ear-gouging competition. However, Kaczynski’s angular guitar work saves the day, hinting at indie legends Built to Spill.
“My Beautiful” ratchets up the hero worship, this time in deference to Pearl Jam — or, less charitably, maybe Creed. Kaczynski transforms his low-key delivery in an almost cartoonish caricature of Eddie Vedder, gusting lines with overblown bravado in an attempt, presumably, to elicit more emotion. The irony is that Kaczynski’s sweet prose invites more than enough heartsick longing. He would be better served trusting his own instincts than aping those of his idols.
The moments that Kaczynski does trust himself are album high points. For example, the acoustic ballad “Saving You,” in which he earnestly describes the end of an unhealthy relationship before concluding, coldly, “Saving you is not saving me.”
David Kaczynski has talent. But he lacks direction and, perhaps, the confidence to play to his own strengths rather than those of the artists he admires. Should he ever overcome this, he’ll be well on his way to becoming the artist he should be.