A few notes of electric piano and semi-distant slide guitar stamps Time Stands Still with the hallmarks of a West Coast album with a whole heap of promise. The opening track of Time Stands Still, “Burbank Woman”, was my first experience of the music of Taylor Locke and by the end of the song, I was a Taylor Locke fan. With Locke’s gently yearning vocal, resigned lyrics of unrequited love, yet mature emotional restraint, backed with a gentle rolling shuffle drum beat, “Burbank Woman” is a classy way to open any album.
As the guitar player of Rooney, Locke has been a fixture of American Powerpop scene since the start of the last decade. Time Stands Still is his solo debut, and it makes for one hell of a calling card, as it confirms without doubt that he’s capable of genuinely great things, and the work of a man who is a master of his craft, effortlessly drawing influences from the same deep well as the likes of Crowded House and Brendan Benson.
Lead single, “Running Away From Love”, is Time Stands Still’s unashamedly commercial moment. This is undoubtedly a good thing, because the whole point of Powerpop is to be catchy as hell, which is something that “Running Away From Love” has etched throughout, from its upbeat bouncy rhythm, Locke’s joyous vocal and a blast of bright guitar. This musical optimism is at odds with the lyrics, but this is a feature throughout Time Stands Still that makes it such a genuinely great album. The underlying theme of a soured relationship informs the lyrics of the majority of songs, but that in no way means that it’s a downbeat listen, as Locke’s vocals and the tunes lend the whole album a feeling of optimism.
Another strength of Time Stands Still is its relative brevity – at under 33 minutes it certainly doesn’t hang about. A lesser talent may have been tempted to pad the album out with more songs, but Locke is smart enough to know that ten fully realised songs are preferable to fifteen pretty good tunes which outstay their welcome. This level of care and attention means that the ten tracks that make up Time Stands Still are diverse examples of pop rock, but of uniformly good quality, with even with a relatively introverted number like the title track sounding like a mini masterpiece.
Riffing rocker “Call Me Kuchu” is the centerpiece of the second half of Time Stands Still, but it doesn’t dominate preceedings to the point where it over-shadows the rest of the songs. An irresitable mid-paced number, it has a slightly threatening feel that hints that Locke has the potential to unleash the unrepentant rock beast on the live stage should the mood take him.
As previously mentioned, the majority of Time Stands Still seems informed by failed relationships, nowhere more so than on the gorgeous “The Art of Moving On”, an almost embarrasingly accurate analysis of how most modern males react when a well established relationship comes to an end. It’s this grounding in universal truths which proves to be one of the hidden strengths of Time Stands Still, as there’s a genuineness to Locke that only the very best musicians seem capable of.
Time Stands Still is an album that genuinely took me by surprise. On intial listen, it’s a refreshingly straightforward blast of Powerpop, but repeated plays continue to reveal additional layers that were not previosuly so obvious, the result of which is that after a dozen or so plays of this album, my respect for the talent of Taylor Locke has continued to expanded exponentially.
After years of being just out of the spotlight Powerpop’s new hero has taken centre-stage, and you know something? He’s utterly brilliant.