When Joshua Radin’s new record, Simple Times, arrived unbidden on my doorstep, I assumed the worst, because there are a number of reasons to hate Radin’s music. I will list several of them for you now:
1. Almost every song on his debut album, 2006’s We Were Here, sounds like the same goddamn watered-down Iron & Wine track.
2. He was given his first big break by Zach Braff, who sucks.
3. Did I mention that all his songs sound the same?
So, as you can see, I listened to Simple Times with extreme prejudice, and expected to hear 45 minutes of Radin whispering over chords gently strummed at the same tempo. Surprise, surprise — young Joshua has gone and written us a batch of actual songs this time, mixing the hushed ballads (like “You Got Growin’ Up to Do,” which features Patty Griffin) with some moderately uptempo poppy folk songs, and even sticks his tongue in his cheek for a few minutes with the kinda cute “Vegetable Car.”
Make no mistake, Simple Times isn’t a huge departure from We Were Here — but it does show a clear leap in Radin’s songwriting and performing. He’s probably never going to move completely away from the doe-eyed love songs — which is as it should be; his voice was made for them — but at least he isn’t double-tracking his vocals on every song, and he’s started exploring wider melodic territory. Hell, some of the songs even swing a little.
The end result is a perfectly pleasant little record that I’ve played probably a dozen times back-to-back without getting tired of it. Radin’s style of music occupies such a narrow bandwidth that its appeal is fairly limited, at least for me — but it’s perfect for reflective moments, sunrises, and sunsets, and there’s plenty to be said for that. Give “Sky” (download) a listen while you mellow out in your hoodie and American Apparel t-shirt.