Meulemans solidified his abilities as a capable, neo-folk crooner with a predilection for catchy pop phrasing on his first two EPs, and later polished that sound on “Lilac Drive,” his subsequent debut full-length album from 2016.
“Lilac Drive” was notable both for Meulemans’s use of a full band in the recording studio and for introducing producer and multi-instrumentalist Dave Drago as a major collaborator. In addition to co-producing the record with Meulemans at 1809 Studios in nearby Macedon, Drago provided bass guitar, keyboards, percussion, and background vocals.
Drago reprises his multiple roles on “Waves,” displaying his uncanny knack for pop-rock hooks. His ear for vocal harmonies brings greater depth to the songs’ straightforward structure — especially on “Quiet Night.”
But the new album’s approach to the lead vocals has both Meulemans and Drago shifting course, with major sonic implications.
For one, Meulemans has dropped much of the darker, complex colors in his vocal timbre that gave his melodies an otherworldly vibe — not unlike the soulful, new-age warble of indie musician Anohni (formerly Antony Hegarty). Instead, Meulemans sticks to a more mainstream vocal quality on “Waves” — with brighter tones and simpler, less busy melodies, as on the earnest ballad “Burnin’.”
That said, the song arrangements throughout the album are fully formed and muscular, whether the music is boisterous or introspective. “On My Way” is a full-fledged, blues-rock barn-burner reminiscent of The Black Keys, while “Mirror” is a harmony-rich, psychedelic ballad akin to the songs of indie rock bands My Morning Jacket or Band of Horses.
No matter the vocal range of the song, Meulemans’s tenor voice seems fixed in the middle of his range, resulting in an easy delivery that never sounds strained or strung out. At his core, Meulemans is an engaging singer whose original songs are rooted in acoustic folk-rock, but shaded with melodies that evoke soul and the blues — à la artists such as Hozier and Vance Joy.
With “Waves,” Drago and Meulemans have made the lead vocals less prominent in the mix, opting instead to embed the voice more evenly into the overall sound through strategic mic placement and the use of reverb. It’s effective at creating a hypnotic atmosphere, but it de-emphasizes the importance of the songwriting.
In his previous recorded work, Meulemans sounded like he was having an intimate conversation with listeners. In contrast, “Waves” creates more distance between him and the audience, and proceeds to fill in the space with arena-ready soundscapes.
That’s not to say the album is a misstep, but it is a departure from the coffeehouse ambiance of the EPs “New Folk” and “Evan’s Aloha.” The live-concert setting will be the true test of potency for Meulemans’s new collection of songs.
The “Waves” CD release show takes place 7 to 10 p.m. on Saturday, Nov. 20, at Lovin’ Cup, 300 Park Point Drive. $10. Ed Iseley plays in support. For more info, go to the Facebook event page.
Daniel J. Kushner is CITY’s arts editor. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.