June & the Exit Wounds
(originally written 2003)
His impeccable taste in pop thievery hardly overshadows Todd Fletcher’s broad spectrum of musical talent. Effortlessly eschewing the fin de siècle Idiot Chic Zeitgeist, Fletcher's beautifully crafted 1999 debut, “a little more Haven Hamilton, please,” fairly overflows with boyish charm, small town gossip, pop star infatuations, and girl-next-door crushes, precisely situating this Champaign IL native equidistant between Upper Darby PA and Hawthorne CA—despite the Nashville TN-pointing title of the album—and showcases his penchant for Runt-era piano-based verses that burst forth into breathtaking Smile-inducing choruses. Adding a healthy dose of Mavericks-period Stamey and Holsapple’s acoustic intensity, and sprightly Bacharach-styled arrangements, songs like “How Much I Really Loved You,” “Highway Noise,” and the gorgeously melodic “Let’s Shack Up Together,” inhabit a sublimely rarefied pop state that has been all but wiped off the face of the US map.
These three songs are only the purest pop standouts on an album by a supremely talented auteur who obviously belabors the musicality of every note before he commits it to the mix. While hardly spare—mostly bass, drums-"lite" and keyboards, including vibes—the refined and sophisticated arrangements serve only to enhance Fletcher's natural way with melodies and chord progressions, without ever calling attention to themselves. The slower, vaguely jazz-inflected “I Shouldn’t Be Surprised,” with its brushed drums and lounge bar guitar lines, reflects Fletcher’s avowed love for a Blossom Dearie-like directness, while never losing sight of its pop destination; “Straight To My Head,” and the atmospheric album-closer “Idly By” have the most overt Chris Stamey influences (“Let’s Shack Up Together” lovingly acknowledges the debt, borrowing the keyboard break from “She’s Not Worried”), weaving sinuous melodies and dizzying emotional intensity together, with only Fletcher's lighter touch at the mic keeping the listener from wondering why Mavericks wasn't a trio's outing.
Tethering himself to a small label, Fletcher’s spotlight-shy persona is reflected in the ugly-sounding band name he has chosen, and his disinclination for touring, thus making his radio-ready brilliance available only to those with an enthusiastic love for outstandingly catchy, heart-tugging, classic American pop music. And that's very few people indeed.