It isn’t a cliché to say there’s no one like Parker Longbough. You can glean influences in his music from a single listen. He takes his influences, however, and transmutes them through his skill set, experiences, and personality into something singularly his own. The eight track collection Off Front Street practically bristles with the songwriter’s personality. It is prominently embodied by the seemingly inexhaustible cast of losers and star-crossed hard luck cases populating his song. Its restless musical imagination matches it. The album’s production won’t appeal to everyone; it’s perhaps a fair charge to say Longbough romanticizes a self-consciously rudimentary sound.
The sound is an effective vehicle, however. It has surprising flexibility as well. Off Front Street’s aural architecture sounds very simple at first listen, the only obvious adornments being his predilection for applying effects to his vocals, but there’s more going on. The sheer malleability he demonstrates moving from the cutting uptempo alternative rock of the title song into the clean jangle of its second track. “Off Front Street” is a near-manifesto — Longbough introduces newcomers to recurring musical and lyrical elements and lays down one of his strongest songs with this performance.
The second song, “Wanna Be Johnny”, plays like a souped-up pop song. It’s the album’s briefest cut clocking in at barely over two minutes but he incorporates a great deal into that limited frame. It’s even more impressive that the track never sounds cluttered. “Please Come Over” burns with improbable yearning and the musical flexibility mentioned earlier extends to his vocals as well. Longbough isn’t a traditional vocalist, by any measure, but he is a potent performer — the unmistakable emotion in his voice stands out here.
“Photosynthetic” is sustained by its central metaphor — it’s extremely effective within a sub four-minute rock song. There’s brief passages of strained, near claustrophobic lead guitar slicing through the mix but much of the track follows the trajectory Longbough has established so far. Another of the harsher rock-oriented tracks included on the album is “Cause You’re Worth It” and its super-heated instrumental presence leaps out of the speakers. His voice matches it, however, each step of the way. The balance he achieves between the album’s competing musical strands is one of its chief strengths.
“We Missed the Exit” is a perfect finale. Few will disagree. One aspect of the songs listeners will agree about, if nothing else, is that the sense of strangeness Longbough embraces in this music, the sense of being slightly outside any notions of “normal”, isn’t a pose. He has an unabashed willingness, as well, to write about any subject. The story of a gorilla saving a three year old boy and no one believing the story years later is the sort of winking humor we sometimes hear on this release. There’s some whiffs of darkness, as well, but it’s mature and perhaps more chilling. We live in an universe so completely random that a primate can save a toddler’s life. It’s this sort of specialness that will lead many to champion this album.