SONGWRITING ANTI-HERO Will Gattis.
It's definitely been too long since we've heard from Will Gattis, the piano-player and singer-songwriter who showed himself to be a young voice to be reckoned with on 2005's Dullard
. Smart, funny, and charmingly dorky, Gattis got pegged as a bit of a Ben Folds knock-off, but that didn't mean people didn't like it.
Five years later, Gattis is a more-refined version of that previous self on his new four-song EP, Gattis (also the name of his current trio). Engineered by Jim Begley at the Studio, the record is crisp and powerful, full of big choruses that punctuate witty verses that never fail to tell interesting stories. And while four songs might seem meager after five years off, in this case it's appropriate. With each tune such a hearty meal to consume, and the piano such a distinctive central instrument that can lead to songs sounding alike, it makes good sense for Gattis to dole out his songs in small, tight bunches.
God, they're tight. You can tell he's been wood-shedding the hell out of these songs, filling in loads of nuanced finishing touches. The alternate backing verse by Kate Driver in "You and Me" is a dreamy counterpoint to the precise realities of life: "We wrote our vows on the bathroom wall/In the Denny's next to city hall/Now raise a drink/I think this could end well." Sometimes it's just a single note, like the cymbal hit from Tim Webber that closes the a capella coda to the "No Rain"-flavored "Lily," or the bit of triangle that punctuates the opening bouncing chords of "Christopher."
There are whistle breaks and lots of nonsense-nah-nahs and all-stops that last a beat and a half, and Gattis seems to have a delivery to match them all, with piercing falsettos, extended croons, and clipped phrasing right out of They Might Be Giants.
The song that brings the house down is "Metropolis," which you've definitely heard if you've seen Gattis live. It's his showpiece, and for good reason. Positing that Clark Kent is the hero, that Superman's death would just be a reason to find "somebody new to be dependent on," it's an endearing ode to the underdog and an excellent indictment of those sitting around waiting for saving: "The day that Jesus died/Slapped on a cross and crucified/Did god feel a sense of fatherly pride/Or do you think he cried?"
Churning through darkened chords, and the idea that Kent offed himself, Gattis somehow manages to mix his gravity with levity, creating a powerful urge to sing along. What better super power for a songwriting anti-hero?
Sam Pfeifle can be reached at email@example.com.
GATTIS | Released by Gattis | with Div Kid | at the Big Easy, in Portland | Aug 27 | www.willgattis.com