Who Knew

A version of this review appears on kevchino.com.

You Won’t: Skeptic Goodbye

In a city like Boston, where aspiring singer/songwriters are a dime a dozen, it’s hard to stand out. For every Joan Baez or John Mayer, there must be thousands who never make it past the open mic circuit, and as many truly talented artists who never make it to the big time. Have you heard of Lake Street Dive? How about Margaret Glaspy? Joy Kills Sorrow?

Well you should. But it’s a sad truth that many of my favorite musicians, no matter how many move to New York—a city even more saturated than Boston with starving artists, and yet offering the promise of success—will labor in relative anonymity forever.

It’s worth looking, though. Because the deeper you sift through the striving, brimming pool of aspiring talent, the more likely you’ll be to stumble upon a true gem: a lovingly assembled record by a band that no one’s ever heard of, but that nevertheless distinguishes itself amidst all the crooning and guitar-strumming and confessing. Skeptic Goodbye, the first release for Boston-area duo You Won’t, is just such an album.

You Won’t do their share of crooning and guitar-strumming, to be sure. The group’s frontman, Josh Arnoudse, is a singer/songwriter in the most traditional sense, and his songs are the focal point of Skeptic Goodbye. Arnoudse writes with a knitted brow and a wry smile, and sings with nasal, Dylan-esque conviction. He and producer Raky Sastri follow in a grand tradition of do-it-yourselfers, crediting themselves on a litany of real and invented instruments, from guitars and drums to stolen road signs and clapping hands—an element of whimsy that runs counter to Arnoudse’s sharp-witted melancholy.

The do-it-yourself aesthetic, a sound now cultivated in studios as often as in basements, is no mere shtick for You Won’t, and unlike so many home-grown projects that fall prey to preciousness or self-indulgence, Skeptic Goodbye displays a clear, well-executed vision. Arnoudse and Sastri resist the urge to ramble, creating succinct, detailed arrangements around hummable melodies. Sastri, aided by a multitude of unconventional drumming surfaces, provides a backdrop of rich, rattling percussion behind Arnoudse’s keening vocals and layers of jangling guitar. At times, the songs reach epic, rock n’ roll proportions, thrumming with bass and distortion; at others, a gentler touch reigns, and Sastri and Arnoudse reach for mandolin and accordion instead. Perhaps most importantly, they know when to lay back. The standout track “Television” is an exercise in restraint, with piano, vocals, handclaps, and the merest touch of bass drum built slowly and deliberately towards a spare, powerful conclusion.

Skeptic Goodbye might seem like a modest achievement, but for a first release by an unknown artist, it shows startling maturity. Arnoudse and Sastri may be green, but they obviously have what it takes. With any luck, You Won’t will be around a long time, blithely ignoring the pessimism implicit in their name, and making lovely, meticulous records with as much ingenuity and eloquence as ever.

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