Conor Gains – Compass

Conor Gains – Compass


Conor Gains’ solo debut Compass opens with the song “I Know” and, from that song alone, listeners will rest easy realizing they are in confident and capable musical hands. The blues and jazz influences powering the ten song collection are cut with a tangible nod to soul and R&B in the way that Gains, one song after another, holds listener’s attention thanks to his penchant for writing and singing over deeply felt, atmospheric grooves. “Walking Alone” opens in a spartan manner with warm, tactile guitar accompanying one of Gains’ finer vocals before the drums enter and the song launches in earnest. There’s a light presence of backing vocals deepening the song’s soulful qualities, but Gains is more than capable of single-handedly carrying the song’s emotional demands. Brief passages of lead guitar punctuate the song at key dramatic points without ever overstepping its mandate.

“Dance Like It’s Your Birthday” mixes pure R&B stomp with a strong blues influence. The vocal presentation is highlight from the first and ends up being one of the best aspects of the song and achieves a particularly rousing quality during the track’s chorus. There’s a quick guitar rave up opening “Ordinary Love” segueing nicely into a slow burn torch song complete with stylish backing vocals and understated percussion. Gains’ singing glides through the changes and brings a gentle lift at specific points that widens the song’s reach. Each of the ten songs on Compass shows him to be a master of mood who never over-exerts to achieve effects. Instead, he makes his presence felt with an effortlessness that wins you over from the first. There’s even a smattering of rap vocals added near the song’s end.

He proves expert with gradual transitions as “I’ve Been Looking for Your Heart” builds from a muted opening to a stormy, impassioned conclusion without ever striking a false note along the way. Gains has the phrasing talents of a much older singer and certainly much of that can be attributed to a passion for perfecting his craft, but it’s just as much innate skill. “In My Head” has some tasteful, yet wonderfully bluesy piano playing matching every bit of the intensity in Gains’ singing. There’s a glowering intensity, even a low key menace, accompanying this tune that’s impossible to ignore and it revolves around the aforementioned piano and Gains’ show stopping vocal. It’s a mightily impressive way to start the album’s second half.

“Back to You” shifts the album’s musical gears slightly with an acoustic based tune. It has a palpable live feel to the performance, despite the flawless backing vocals, and reaches some rousing pinnacles along the way. There’s a surprising hint of Bon Iver’s influence in the massed vocals and clear focus on ambient production during the song’s first half, but it isn’t a pronounced thing. Compass’ longest song, “Miracle”, keeps Gains working in relatively low key musical surroundings and embraces his blues influences once again while bringing an impressive horn section to bear on the final result. The album’s second to last track “Darkness in the Light” continues to explore the more pensive edge of his songwriting, but Gains and his collaborators once again confound expectations during the song’s second half and push the envelope some. Compass concludes with another comparatively lengthy piece, “Mexico”, which blends more of his patented talent for soulful grooves with an evolving roots rock sound build around the guitar and never pushing too hard on listeners. This is a fully immersive and rewarding musical experience that bears repeated listens.


Clay Burton