Say I’m Pretty — the gorgeous new album from Los Angeles-based musical polymath Patrick Damphier—is a collection of sun-kissed guitar pop that effortlessly glides across its 45-minute run time. But while each track seems deceptively simple, repeat listens reveal compelling nuance and depth. With the record’s layered production, a cascade of slowly evolving aural surprises urks just beneath the hooks, while the lyrics explore characters caught in transition—keeping secrets, choosing sides, crossing bridges, vacillating between what’s real and what’s not, deciding whether to stay or go, fight or flee, be bought or sold, and also wondering if anyone notices them at all. Each spin brings a new discovery.
Perfect for fans of Real Estate, Beach Fossils, and the shimmering, dulcet guitar pop of peak-era Rough Trade Records, there’s an underlying urgency to Say I'm Pretty– and it’s evident from the first track, "The Calendar Lies”: Opportunity knocks and the door opens wider / Tried to sell my good name, never did find a buyer / You say my future's in flames, I say it's all lookin’ brig
These lines feel optimistic given the pre-apocalyptic tension of daily life in 2018, but they were born of their author’s need to bring Say I’m Pretty to life. Since the dissolution of his acclaimed band, Paper Rival, Damphier has lent his talents as a songwriter, multi-instrumentalist and producer to The Mynabirds, Richard Swift, Molly Parden, Aaron Lee Tasjan, Tim Easton, Houndmouth, Stone Jack Jones, Fences, Sun Seeker, The Arcs and Jessica Lea Mayfield—with whom he’s performed as a sideman, producer and songwriter, contributing the song "Offa My Hands" to her most recent album, Sorry Is Gone. That track—as well her previous album, Make My Head Sing—was recorded at Damphier’s old studio in south Nashv
Say I’m Pretty was written, performed, recorded and mixed by Damphier himself, though he had some valuable assistance from collaborators Jessica Lea Mayfield, Molly Parden, Nicole Atkins and Richard Swift. The songs that make up the record were culled from a catalog of more than 150. "I was brought up around songwriting," says Damphier, whose dad, Tom Damphier, came to Nashville at the invitation of Loretta Lynn, and later wrote Reba McEntire’s first #1, "Can’t Even Get the Blues." "My approach is that the song has to be able to be played—and sustain itself—with one chordal instrument, lyric and melody. I’m not trying to be Nashville Writer’s Night Dude, but if the song can pass that test then I’ll bring it into the studio and experiment wit
And experiment he does. With the basic structure of the songs complete, Damphier began to sculpt, adding and subtracting instruments until he found the perfect arrangement. Every song has a vibrant ecosystem of synth textures, percussion, voices and subtle beds of guitar feedback—but never at the behest of the melodies they serve. It’s a sensibility that merges Fleetwood Mac with My Bloody Valentine. That it has so much going on yet maintains is subtlety is no small
"I know people get bored really easy, and I do too,” Damphier says, “so I try to change stuff up. I like the second verse to be different than the third. It doesn’t have to be night and day, but just some little thing to make listeners realize there’s something new happening. I like to keep things mov
This is especially evident on "Killers in the Closet," which pits the tremulous guitar languor of Johnny Marr against gently strangled Sonic Youth-reminiscent strings before bringing in vocoders, a slanted key change and a disco section. "I don’t know many people I work with who would have allowed me to do that," Damphier says of the song’s breakdown. "I might’ve suggested it, and they would’ve laughed. But I love that I could d
"Odd Man Out" is another standout. With its four-on-the-floor beat and undulating synths, Say I’m Pretty’s most overt pop moment channels New Order until Damphier throws in a breakdown that sounds like someone playing a melting calliope. "Bridges" moves at a rocksteady clip until synth arpeggios and voice-like slide guitar brings the song to a full bloom. The McCartney II-worthy "All Give No Take" unleashes a gloriously detuned guitar solo that plays like Pavement’s Stephen Malkmus moonlighting in Roxy Music. And "Throw the Rest Away (Hold On)" has the pastoral elegance of The Feelies or The War on Drugs, augmented by stacks of vocals that will satisfy fans of both Brian Wilson and György L
Of a piece with the music, Say I’m Pretty’s lyrics are imbued with an oblique sense of unease. They paint impressionistic pictures, leaving plenty of space for interpretation. "I think questions in music are more interesting than answers,” Damphier says. “I enjoy hearing what people think songs means. Sometimes they’re best defined by the list
Sometimes, as with lead single "Under My Door," Damphier’s words are even dreamier than the sonics. Elsewhere, though, his lines deal in images that conjure current events, though he insists his only overtly political song is "I’m With You." It’s perfect that the literal flipside to Say I'm Pretty’s most ethereal track is Damphier at his most direct. "Under My Door" and "I’m With You" were released as a vinyl 7-inch and digital single with artwork by Richard Swift via YK Records—home to Coupler, Birdcloud and Skyway Man—on Feb. 23. Originally written in 2012 in support of Occupy Wall Street, "I’m With You" has found new resonance in the age of Trump: "Are you hungry? / Are you tired? / Are you awake enough to dream? / Have your values been called worthless / ‘Cause you think everyone should be free?" The urge for direct expression is mirrored by Damphier’s lo-fi approach to recording the track, which was lovingly captured on a cassette four-track.
With Say I’m Pretty finally complete, Damphier is touring behind the album, both solo and with his new band, which features members of Sun Seeker, Lambchop, Okey Dokey, Rayland Baxter, Jenny Lewis and The Features. Despite the meticulous effort that went into to crafting Say I’m Pretty, Damphier is content to let his songs take new shape on stage. "I’m not super concerned with replicating the record," he says. "That's why I wanted to make sure the songs were good. It'll be nice to just play them naked—or at least in a bathrobe."