Toronto singer-songwriter Sean Dineley’s sophomore release, Still Bummed, felt just right with golden light and fall colours peeking through my window. Call it “October bias” if you like, but I was taken aback when I discovered this album was released during the summer! Dineley’s crisp, glassy voice lends a nostalgic feel to his sorrowful blend of folk, pop and bluegrass… Not exactly what I’d call a summer bop! Still, his songwriting skills and excellent musicianship make this record worthy of any Saturday morning living room, especially this time of year.
BUT FIRST, Sean wants you to meet the indie-rock alternative band. It’s an understandable strategy, but the first two tracks’ generic pop-rockness didn’t leave an impression.
It isn’t until the deliciously off-kilter solo acoustic third track that things kick in. The only fault I can find with “Losing Game” is not the tasty out-of-tuneness of that low string, but rather that there’s too much reverb on those back vocals! After that, this album really hits its stride with “Baby Blue,” whose vocal and guitar melodies I’ve heard before, without being able to say where – a good sign! Another good sign is that the lead guitar tone in “Frankie” reminds me of Wilco, a band I would be surprised not to find in Sean Dineley’s list of influences. That track is a great example of Sean’s guitar playing, which is top-notch throughout Still Bummed. “Green and Blue” also stood out to me with its jazzy feel and Beatles-like transitions.
The penultimate track “Damn This Town” has perhaps the catchiest chorus of this album, complemented by a brief, yet soulful and purposeful guitar solo; it fully deserves what I often consider to be the most magical spot on a great record’s tracklist. What follows, a 59-second lo-fi ditty called “Pre-Empting the Apocalypse,” is nothing to write home about, yet seals the deal for a distinct and thoroughly re-listenable hidden gem of a record. Congrats, Sean!
The one fault I can find in this record is that it’s string-centric; aside from percussion and vocals, strings (guitar, bass, banjo and mandolin in this case) are really all that’s ever going on! Sure, a small handful of tracks have some piano and rhodes parts, but I felt that it would have been genre-appropriate and aesthetically pleasing to hear more diversity in the instrumentation here. As is to prove my point, the tracks that do include some piano or rhodes – “Prairie Love Song,” “Green and Blue” and “Damn This Town,” are among the best on Still Bummed.
Finally, I have one quick question for Sean – if you’re reading this, that is! In “Look, See the Sun?” Is this a Grateful Dead reference in the lyrics? “Black star, oh star, oh my star, oh Dark Star / Get bright again?” Slide in my DMs, ‘cause I’d love to know!
Written by Henri Brillon
*Edited by Dominic Abate