An acoustic guitar gently nudges forth a somber rhythm with pendulous hesitance as we listen in on the opening bars of the title track in Anthony Quails’ new extended play The Man I Thought I’d Never Be, but as we’ll soon discover in the four songs that join it in the tracklist of this latest release from the acclaimed singer/songwriter, this instrumental melody is but a small taste of the chill-inducing magic Quails is bringing to the table in his new EP. Armed with little more than a talent for conjuring up sophisticated harmonies and pastoral lyrics, this player introduces audiences to another layer of his songcraft evolved from what was presented to us in his virgin offering, 2016’s Before the Bright Lights LP.
The title track and “As Long As I’m With You” are both built around their sterling harmonies, while “It’s Okay to Have Nothing to Say,” “There’s a Reason That You’re Breathing” and “I Wish That I Was Him” are a bit more complicated in spirit and in structure, but personally I found the flow between the different songs here to be strong just the same. In 2020, nothing is more important in the creation of a great record than producing a diverse array of material, and that’s precisely what Quails does better than most anyone I’ve heard this year has in his latest studio cut.
There’s a really raw feel to the instrumentation in “As Long As I’m With You” and “There’s a Reason That You’re Breathing” juxtaposed with pristine vocal tracks that definitely shines a lot of light on the contrast in Quails’ style of songwriting in general, and I think he deliberately wanted to emphasize this aspect of his artistic persona more than almost any other in The Man I Thought I’d Never Be. He wants us to pick up on all of the textures in both the melodic backdrop and his verses, which isn’t something other artists in his peer group have seemed as hung up on.
It would be really interesting to hear all five of these songs in a live setting, if for no other reason than to understand and appreciate the means in which Quails would recreate them for the stage. There’s a lot of versatility to the compositional technique he used in constructing The Man I Thought I’d Never Be, and regardless of how he plans on playing these in-concert, something tells me it would make for an interesting performance at any rate.
Though I wasn’t very familiar with his work prior to now, I’m really interested in hearing more of Anthony Quails’ discography after getting hooked on this latest effort he’s put together for fans and critics. He’s got a surreal approach to making conventional songs just a little more interesting to the intellectual ear, but of everything that I noticed in The Man I Thought I’d Never Be, it was his focus that made me most excited to hear his music again in the future. It’s a rare find in any player nowadays, and that’s putting it quite mildly.