Shapes & Shadows
Ben Ottewell is best known as a member of the band Gomez; specifically, he’s the one with the most distinctive voice of their three lead singers. Shapes & Shadows, his first solo release, leans to the roots-rock side of Gomez. Stripped-down and rustic, the album features acoustic arrangements and carefully crafted songs that blend well together, which is not to say they all sound alike. Ottewell clearly takes great care to give each of the nine tracks its own identity. “Chicago,” for instance, begins with a fingerpicked guitar melody before injecting an amped-up middle section that elevates the song. Strings, synths, brass, and ambient sounds turn “Lightbulb” and “Blackbird,” two of the standout tracks, into slices of subtle chamber pop, while the title track, “Step Right Back,” and “No Obstacles” are soulful folk-rock well suited to Ottewell’s warm, rich tenor. “All Brand New” and “Take This Beach” are quiet, dreamy acoustic guitar numbers, and “Chose” is a gorgeous piano ballad that builds to an unpredictable finish. Beguiling and free of filler, Shapes & Shadows reveals that Ottewell has a songwriting voice very much his own.