HOMESHAKE is the solo musical pseudonym of ex-guitarist for Mac DeMarco’s live band, Peter Sagar, who has pursued an electronic-driven R&B and indie pop sound on his previous two albums under this name. The project’s previous album, 2015’s Midnight Snack, was a sweet and laid-back combination of numerous musical stylings, most notably synthpop, indie, smooth soul and R&B. A distinct lo-fi aesthetic was also present on this project, with the foundations of these compositions revolving around just Sagar’s vocals accompanied by synths and a drum machine. Nonetheless, this record did see a significant progression from HOMESHAKE’s 2014 debut, In the Shower, including a more clearly R&B influenced-sound with live guitars and drums also being incorporated into a handful of tracks in the tracklisting. Similarly, Fresh Air sees somewhat of a stylistic change whilst still being rooted in Sagar’s chilled, slightly lo-fi synthpop vibe, incorporating a much more noticeable influence from numerous styles of soft rock music, most notably yacht rock. The resulting vibe that comes through on Fresh Air is low-key but cool and fluid, making for a smooth listening experience. As I feel has been an issue on Sagar’s previous albums under the HOMESHAKE name, this album is somewhat of a one-trick pony and unfortunately is often passive to the point of feeling like background music rather than something that a listener is intended to enjoy in the foreground for numerous listens, but this is arguably in keeping with the atmosphere that Sagar is pursuing, and Fresh Air comes across as his most successful attempt at this sound yet. Nonetheless, a lot is left to be desired from the final product.
Fresh Air lives up to its name sonically-speaking, with the chilling synths taking the lead on these tracks, and the airy, lo-fi production evoking a rather crisp but raw and natural sound. In keeping with the lyrical themes of loneliness, isolation and heartache, Sagar’s performances are very lonely, with the sparse and minimal instrumentation recalling these same feelings on the musical side of things. The lead single from Fresh Air, Call Me Up, is entirely-synth driven with an expected accompanying drum machine, and the simple and repetitious synth lines leave a lot of space in the track, creating a very lonely atmosphere. I’m also struck with a strong resemblance to the music of Yankee synthpop project PORCHES., and this isn’t the only point where I hear some very similar ideas channelled on Fresh Air. Songs like Not U show a similar style of singing to that of PORCHES.’s frontman Aaron Maine, with some soft and slightly undisciplined vocal deliveries, often stretching up into higher octaves and performed with a distinct dose of angst. Every Single Thing stands out for having one of the most well-assembled grooves on the record, featuring a funky drum loop with an equally funky synth bass wobbling about under the light and airy synth chords. Sagar’s slightly soporific singing is accompanied by some stylistically similar high vocals during the chorus and this provides some nice texture to the song. This track, like most on the record, also doesn’t overstay its welcome, which is probably for the best given its simple structure. In fact, most of the better cuts on Fresh Air are between two and three minutes in length, giving plenty of time for Sagar to convey his breezy beats and synth lines without dragging these simple slacker tunes out for too long.
Conversely, the title track is far longer than the average HOMESHAKE track, clocking in at over six minutes in length. It seems quite evident here that Sagar’s songwriting formula for this project doesn’t work well in a longer format. This cut features one of the airiest instrumentals on the album, quite literally considering the whistling wind that hangs in the background for the entirety of this song. A very simple jazzy guitar is the primary instrument on this track, being accompanied by a funk-inspired wah guitar at some points. Unfortunately, the highly minimalist timbre on the title track highlights that Sagar delivers one of his most questionable vocal performances here, with his voice sounding very shaky and out-of-tune for much of the take. As for the song’s progression, things remain very much the same throughout most of this song’s six minutes. The title track has one of the most simple foundations to any song on Fresh Air, so I find it rather strange and questionable that it was this one that Sagar decided should be dragged out for an unnecessary amount of time. Also, this track above any other highlights the awkward place that the HOMESHAKE project’s music inhabits, feeling largely like music that isn’t intended to maintain the listener’s full attention.
All in all, Fresh Air successfully fulfils its purpose as a chilled and laid-back electro-R&B project. The breezy production and ice-cold synths are used with a keen awareness as to what should be expected from a project such as this. A handful of these songs are interesting enough to demand the listener’s full attention, but as is probably expected, there are a fair few tracks on here that come across as little more than background music emitting from a haze of dope smoke. Nevertheless, Sagar has come through with a project that is certainly fitting for such an occasion and will most likely be a go-to choice for potheads to light one up to for the near future, given the handful of addictive slacker synthpop tunes that feature on this record.
The Vinyl Verdict: 6.5/10