‘Places You’ve Been’ LP review
By Caroline Ho, Arts Editor
If you’re looking for genuine indie spirit from a local artist, Chris Ho’s new record hits all the right notes.
The Vancouver-born singer-songwriter released his LP Places You’ve Been on September 3, the follow-up to his 2013 debut album City of Dust. Places You’ve Been is largely self-produced, and it contains eight solid tracks imbued with an indominable essence of heartfelt authenticity.
Ho describes his music as similar to artists such as The Lumineers and early Sam Roberts. His lively folk-rock sound distinguishes itself through its lyrical fluidity and simple yet effective instrumentation, including guitars, drums, keys, and the mandolin. Ho said via email with the Other Press that he aimed for a “less is more” approach to accompaniment on this record, with the “instrumental production for the most part play[ing] a strictly supportive role” to the lyrics and vocals. The melodies resulting from this mix are charming and catchy.
The album starts off strongly with the opening track, “For Now,” which might be the catchiest song on the record. From the gentle drums that herald the song, to lyrics that hint at “changing seasons” and a “rocky shore,” the track seems imbued with an unmistakably West Coast quality—although that might partly be caused by Ho’s earnest, unassuming vocals, lending the song and indeed the entire record a kind of down-to-earth-ness that are able to make anything feel local and personal.
Some of the tracks off Places You’ve Been might be characterized as fairly upbeat soft rock; others are infused with a more country-influenced sound, such as “Woman of the Wind.” Sweet and serene, this song’s gentle guitar arpeggios throughout are complemented in the chorus by some lovely vocal harmonizing.
“It’s Not You” is one of those songs that starts off relatively soft and builds in energy over the course of the piece. Beginning with a simple choral serenade, each successive verse and chorus adds a layer of liveliness and depth to the music, giving the song an overall satisfying structure.
The strongest aspect of the record as a whole is its sense of pure honesty. “Places You’ve Been” especially embodies this intimacy—fittingly enough, as it is the titular track. Lines like “Another rodeo in Calgary / Yet another reason to try and drink your worries away” are sung with an almost wry familiarity that prompts the listener with a sense of shared experience. Even without paying attention to the lyrics, the heartfelt timbre of Ho’s vocals is evident in itself, particularly in the song’s chorus.
Part of this whole record’s authenticity might be because, according to Ho, many of the vocals on Places You’ve Been were recorded in the shower, which might be the ultimate indie recording space. That’s not at all to say that the record sounds unfinished; rather, it largely manages to uphold a delicate balance between empathetic rawness and polished production.
A few of the tracks on the record do sound a bit similar to one another. However, it’s a short enough record that, for the most part, the resemblance succeeds in cohesiveness rather than repetitiveness, tied together by a wholly refreshing sense of organic honesty.
Ho will be holding a record release show in Vancouver’s Blue Light Studio on September 15 to promote Places You’ve Been.