Magazine article The Advocate (The national gay & lesbian newsmagazine)

Under the Radar: Chris Garneau Is Moody and a Little Difficult. He's Also the Best New Singer-Songwriter You've Never Heard of ... Yet

Magazine article The Advocate (The national gay & lesbian newsmagazine)

Under the Radar: Chris Garneau Is Moody and a Little Difficult. He's Also the Best New Singer-Songwriter You've Never Heard of ... Yet

Article excerpt

When Chris Garneau describes himself practicing his piano as a 7-year-old in France, I can easily picture him sitting at the keys, boosted by the Paris phone book, straining to reach the pedals. He's in a cavernous, run-down Rue Oberkampf loft, empty except for the grand Steinway in the center of the room, introspectively tinkling away. Dusty sunlight pours in through arched windows.

It's easy to entertain this image because the 24-year-old Garneau still looks about 7, and his brooding, poignantly hushed demeanor--to say nothing of his brooding, poignantly hushed music--lends itself to such romanticism.

His debut recording, Music for Tourists, is a delicate, precisely tailored effort that will likely be described as "haunting" by every critic who hears it.

But it's more complicated than that. The tone of Tourists shifts the more you play it; at first listen it seems to have the gravity of a collapsed star. But after a few run-throughs, it feels capricious, free-associative, and occasionally funny.

An hour with Chris Garneau produces exactly the same shift in tone, from grave to almost whimsical. Initially, he radiates inaccessibility. He demurs when asked to comment on the Rufus Wainwright genre of melancholy gay-boy music; he refuses to elaborate on what product he recently helped a friend of his sell at New York City's Union Square street fair. "Don't worry about it," he says, which instantly makes me worry about it. But Garneau opens up gradually and carefully, offering bits of himself in a way that's sometimes candid and other times cryptic.

"There's nothing fantastical on the album," says Garneau, nursing a sake in a second-story window overlooking Brooklyn's 3rd Avenue. "There are a few songs that are lyrically more abstract than others, but even the abstract ones still pull from real stories from my life."

True story:

"The first track on the record, 'Castle-Time': It sort of jumps around subjectwise. I was writing about traditions that carry on through generations with men, particularly straight men. I had these old memories of a teacher of mine who was murdered by her ex-husband's mistress, and that's sort of where it starts 'My teacher died ...' and there's a line about a frying pan crying, and I guess it starts to sound a little like it doesn't really make sense."

One could consider this sort of vague complexity as pretentious faux-depth, a poet muddying his waters to appear deep. In fact, Pitchfork, the influential online arbiter of taste ravaged Tourists upon its release alleging just that. In response to his cover of "Between the Bars," critic Marc Hogan writes: "Garneau reduces Elliott Smith's archetypal misery to the level of cliche, with Prozac-commercial poetry and a high, fluttery whisper that sounds like Elmo tickling Sufjan Stevens on suicide watch," adding, "He takes a melodramatic shit on the aforementioned Smith's fucked-up memory. …

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