Saturday, August 11, 2012

Jim Ivins - Late Night Drive EP

Unsigned, 2012
Four stars

Virginia singer/songwriter Jim Ivins has been making the rounds in the music industry for a few years now, both as a solo artist and as the frontman for the Jim Ivins Band. He's opened for the likes of the Ataris, Parachute and the Rocket Summer, draws influence from Jon Foreman and Ryan Adams, and is buddies with scene hero Ace Enders: not a bad list of names to be associated with. His latest work is an EP entitled Late Night Drive, a terrific set of acoustic based songs with topics ranging from growing up, love (both lost and found), heartbreak and death, that will surely become the soundtrack for the night drives it's title suggests. Right from the first moment of the first track, when forcefully strummed guitar chords came cascading out of my speakers, I was reminded of City and Colour's album Sometimes. That record is still probably the saddest album I've ever heard, and from the very outset, Late Night Drive occupies the same territory of strangely comforting melancholia, though Jim Ivins bears less vocal similarity to Dallas Greene than he does to the likes of Chris Carrabba or Ace Enders himself. The opening track, entitled "Love's Like Snow," introduces everything, starting with a single guitar before the entrance of Ivins' soothing, falsetto laden vocals, and it's wintery, moody tone, sets the atmosphere for the album quite well. The exquisite "Riptides," is even better, showcasing some nice guitar work and one of the strongest choruses on the album, while bells accent parts of the song and add to the ambiance nicely.

The title track follows, this time with a synth line to accompany Ivins' strums. "What is it about the night that makes us think about the things we've lost?" Ivins sings on the chorus, with wistful and nostalgic delivery. Music often hits me the hardest on lonely late night drives home, after an evening out with friends or spent at my girlfriend's house: there's something about playing records at full volume, alone in a car on a dark road that makes them ring with clarity and come alive. The songs on Late Night Drive seem to come directly from that place, and that's something that hit me hard right away. There's a strangely meditative, healing power in drives like that, and that theme cuts through every song on this EP. "Twilight," the following track, comes from a very similar place. It's a mostly piano based number with a killer vocal melody and some of Ivins' most heartbreaking lyrics, born from a relationship at it's end. "Fighting with your present because it won't become your past/Memories are for suckers who couldn't make it last," he croons on the song's bridge, bolstered by some well-placed back-up vocals. The sparse acoustic atmosphere works very well for most of these songs, and "Twilight" is terrific as is, but I feel like there's a better song in there that doesn't quite make it's way out in this arrangement. There's potential for a truly epic, bruising build to that song, a crescendo that's not quite possible with this limited instrumentation and production. It's hard to complain about a song this good, but I would be thrilled to see it done in a bigger fashion.

Ivins saves the best for last with "House of Three," a viscerally moving number that serves as an ode to his mother, who passed away last year. The EP feels like a progression, like every musical and personal moment Ivins has had across the previous four songs have built to this one piece of perfection. Ivins gives his most emotional performance on the album, understandably, and it comes across in both his vocal performance and in his guitar playing, especially in the cathartic chorus. "I don't want to have my memories/'Cause I don't need reminding that they're all that's left until eternity," he states on the verse, looking back at a lifetime of glorious moments with a person who departed from his life far too soon. He considers driving away and trying to escape it all, but by the end of the song, he seems resigned to the fact that he's lost something that no number of late night drives could ever heal, and that the pain he is feeling will probably never fully wash away. Ivins is a strong singer and a songwriter, and it shows on every track on this album, but this one is simply in another class. It's probably one of the four or five best songs I've heard all year, and it would be a shame for Ivins not to get the recognition he deserves for it.

Late Night Drive
is a solid EP from a promising young singer/songwriter that I will most certainly be following from here on out. He writes relatable songs with heart and talent, and performs them with passionate emotional force. Ivins reminds me, in many ways, of some of my favorite artists ever, artists whose music came alive on the late night drives he sings about here, and although he's not going to make his way into their ranks just yet, his ability to evoke those thoughts in me is nothing to laugh about, nor is the fact that this EP closes with one of the most gorgeously perfect songs I've heard in awhile. I can only hope I hear a lot (or at least a few) more of those from him down the road.

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