(Self-released, digital download)
There is a frantic immediacy about Good Childhood, the latest full-length recording from Burlington singer-songwriter Not Caleb. Not Caleb is, in fact, Caleb. Caleb Bauscher, to be precise. As its title suggests, his third record is primarily concerned with reflecting on his childhood. In the album's liner notes, Bauscher writes nostalgically of a time when the limited perspective of childhood created a cocoon of security — or at least the illusion of one. But as he's grown up, he's learned all too well that life sometimes sucks.
The bulk of Good Childhood is caught up in that dichotomy. Bauscher longs for an innocence he knows he'll likely never recapture. He spends most of the album working his way through his emotional conundrum. That wistful melancholy cut with palpable unease manifests itself in every aspect of the recording.
The album opens with a disorienting flurry on "The Dream." A muddled mesh of acoustic guitar fights to consume a buoyantly pleasant lead guitar line. That clash of sounds, an airy melody pitted against a looming, ominous churl, is like the sonic embodiment of the record's central theme. Over this, Bauscher unleashes a flood of stream-of-conscious lyrics whose mix of mundane imagery and twisted metaphors has the effect of a fever dream.
Those night terrors give way to chirping birds on "Rise and Shine." Here Bauscher recalls the sound of soft footsteps on antique stairs as his mother comes to wake him in the morning as a child while he pretends to sleep. At times, he can be a little too direct and prone to over-exposition, writing with a wounded earnestness that borders on cloying. Not here. His writing on "Rise and Shine" is evocative and tender, sentimental without becoming maudlin.
Recorded on an iPhone 3, Good Childhood is maybe a notch above demo quality. In some ways, that rough-hewn feel is an asset. Bauscher leaves the frayed edges of his writing intact to ripple in the breeze. He writes from the heart, which is presumably located squarely on his sleeve, and that suits his lo-fi bent. But certain songs suggest ambition beyond emoting solely through his guitar and voice. More intricately arranged cuts, such as "The Red Store," "Good Grief" and "Toy Swords," all of which feature dovetailing vocal harmonies and multiple instrumental tracks, would greatly benefit from higher fidelity.
Technical limitations aside, Good Childhood is a heartfelt, bluntly honest examination of coming of age. Bauscher approaches his subject matter with genuine compassion, if not always elegance. But then, growing up is often inelegant, which Bauscher clearly understands.
Good Childhood by Not Caleb is available at notcaleb.bandcamp.com.