Cameron McGill, Stories of the Knife and the Back (Post-Important Records)

If there’s a problem with Cameron McGill’s solo debut it may be that it’s so flawless. A few scuffs and scratches might endear this record to an indie audience or, at least, help explain it. As it is, McGill’s perfectly structured pop songs press all the right buttons and leave you wondering where he came from.

When he brings “What The Hell” back to its chorus after a lengthy verse, McGill adds horns to punch the already bouyant lines. when the Hammond organ-driven “The Ballad of George Dobbins” reaches its bridge, McGill introduces a kitschy synth to highlight that section of the song. “Up in Arms,” an organ and acoustic guitar-led ballad, begins with computer blips and squawks and adds huge piano chords to its chorus and a violin to its next verse.

McGill’s record is full of great choices like these. Never does he stray from conventional song structure, but he makes sure that clever instrumentation colors his songs.

McGill makes his own sort of chamber pop with the varied timbres tastefully laid throughout the record. There are times — like in “Stitches” — when his vaguely urban alt-country style struts a little too confidently into Counting Crows territory. But moments like the crushing ambient build-up in “Overboard” more than make up for any trivialities.

That McGill’s record is a total DIY effort (self-produced, self-released) ensured that his own vision was maintained but surely made it difficult to achieve (the ornate cardboard packaging alone must have cost a fortune).

If only a major label had this type of quality control…

–TA