You could infer a good bit of ego from a title like I Am a Tidal Wave, the debut release from Builder of the House. I am a force of nature. I am a really big deal. Pay attention!
And yet the six-song EP is a fairly restrained affair, full of breathy vocals and acoustic guitar and hummed backing vocals. There's very little bravado here at all, actually, and Rob Cimitile, the principal songwriter who started out as something of a one-man band before adding Elliot Heeschen (percussion) and Peter Himmer (bass, keys, etc.) for live performances, comes off as a modern-day bard more than anything else.
He's got this smirk in his voice, a subtle and knowing wink, that makes all of his playful and upbeat songs at least one level more interesting. The title track is Exhibit A: It opens as a quick country ditty, powered by ukulele and acoustic guitar, and the vocals are fairly sing-songy. "Like building blocks we all combine and burrow in the sand," he delivers in quick fashion, "and swim and breathe and walk and ride and steal each other's land." Kind of insidious, right?
Then comes a Colin Mulroy banjo break, melancholy like only the banjo can be, and a really great "la, la, la" construction that bends up and down, before a second verse that serves as an ode to a love ensconced on the other side of the ocean.
But what's this mid-song thing? All silent and then discordant and ugly before pulling out of the nosedive with a quick flat-picked guitar break that leads right back into a third break like nothing ever happened? Did my cat jump onto my iPod or something? Nah, because there's no way that could have caused the angry yelling sample that comes in during another "la, la, la"–banjo segue, which continues to be cool and then vamps around, with a deep booming sort of drum in the background, as it spirals into chaos for the finish.
Whew. That was way more interesting than I thought it was going to be.
After the opening "Niktricity," you'd be excused for thinking you had a Nick Drake clone on your hands, what with the whispery vocals, pretty high up, and lots of reverb. There's a shaker, too, from Heeschen that's mixed so high you can't miss it. Ever. And single hits on a glockenspiel that could be crystalline crisp but instead are sort of mushy. Plus, the guitar is just kind of clang-y.
But, oh, that humming melody in support is really nice and hard to get out of your head, and the crescendo at 3:00 ought to grab you: "We two lost souls/Have to find/Our way home."
Though they can be hard to make out at times, alternately because of a clipped or swallowed delivery (and sometimes a middle mix), Cimitile's lyrics feature nice turns of phrase. "My New Eyes" has a Jack Johnson vibe and a damn fine Nicolette Centanni whistle break that props up the likes of "listen preacher, what you're selling is not convincing in any way/If you truly knew your product, you would already be on your way."