“You cannot expect the world to unfold right in front of you/ Certain things were made for a later time and a better point of view/ It’s true.” That’s Spencer Radcliffe on “Folded,” the third track off of his marvelous full-length debut, Looking In. It’s an apt description for the way his music unspools, and can seemingly also characterize his approach to life as well: Delayed gratification, actions spun around on the axis of hope that all of it will be worth it someday, or in a few minutes of song time.
There are times on Looking In where it feels like Radcliffe is a passive observer of his own life, staring out from behind the fishbowl depicted on its cover with no real desire or ambition to leave its glassy confines. But, other times, it sounds like it’s not about inaction but rather the inability for anyone to recognize the strides that he’s making: “I will try to climb the highest mountain and swim to the bottom of the deepest sea to show that I’m still me,” he sings on “Parent.” Often, events are met with a shrug: “So gentle, the soft spot between my teeth is growing far too big for me to clean/ I will let it dissipate or green,” goes a song about aging slowly. It seems as though Radcliffe wants to make an impact on the world, but doesn’t have the encouragement needed to talk above a whisper. Instead, he sighs in place.
As I wrote when we named him an Artist To Watch last month, Radcliffe has a tendency to take a melody and tease it out to the farthest possible conclusion. This impulse plays itself out time and time again throughout Looking In. Similar sounds are revisited, though not out of any sense that he’s repeating himself — it’s just what feels good, more natural. So much music nowadays is about getting on to the next idea — the next hook, the next trenchant line — that sometimes you forget how good it feels to wallow in the muck. But that’s where Radcliffe seems to thrive, when things take their time and evolve gracefully.
After a long series of EPs, Looking In sounds like it’s Radcliffe at his best and most fully-realized. It’s an insular, patient album, one that teases the edge of the mind until they unravel. Radcliffe and his chorus of squeaks and whispers operate in a beautifully, humanly sweet way. He dabbles in imperfection and experimentation, but the road traveled still feels thoughtfully considered. “I guess I made this album for the same reason I find myself making them again and again — to put something into the outside world that only existed within before, then sit back and admire the mess in front of me,” Radcliffe explained to The Fader, who debuted the record earlier today. “The fact that other people think that’s cool and want to hear that and will sit with that and think ‘this is something,’ is a blessing. I’m very grateful for that.” Listen below.
Looking In is out 10/2 via Run For Cover.