Album Review | Ben Ottewell – Shapes and Shadows

Review by Bianca Martin
It has apparently been five years in the making, but Gomez frontman Ben Ottewell has finally released his debut solo album Shapes and Shadows. Gomez fans need not worry though, this release shouldn’t be seen as a departure from Ottewell’s main project but instead as an expansion on it. Easily the most recognizable vocalist from the English indie rockers, his unique voice remains the focus here. Ottewell’s vocals are perfect for this classic acoustic soft rock, bordering on folk at times, style. Distinctive and naturally emotional, his voice is a little gritty and rough around the edges but mournful and somber at just the right moments.

For casual Gomez fans it’s easy not to approach this as an almost-Gomez album, though it may be more difficult for the die-hard ones. The title track opens the album, and in terms of style is probably one of the songs from Shapes and Shadows most reminiscent of Gomez. Comforting chord progression, and a warm texture built up by a gently plucked guitar and slow, pulsating drum beat. ‘Lightbulbs’ is a highlight, and could even be compared to an acoustic Pearl Jam at some moments. ‘Chicago’ is a highlight – sombre and poignant, accented by strings which give a much needed depth to the track, and are definitely not utilised enough on this album. ‘No Obstacles’ is an absolutely gorgeous piece of pop rock, with one of the most memorable melodies on the album. ‘Blackbird’ though is one of the weaker tracks on Shapes and Shadows. It has a slight country feel and fails to deliver in terms of originality or energy, feeling out of place by comparison.

Overall, Shapes and Shadows is a pleasure to listen to, but ultimately nothing earth shattering. Ottewell uses simple arrangements that are tried and true and that work well for him. He has created a laid back atmosphere that is mostly consistent throughout the nine tracks, but this atmosphere causes the album to come and go without leaving any real immediate impressions. It’s an album that will grow in time, and it will take more than a few listens, but well worth it in the end.

Album Track List:
1. Shapes and Shadows
2. Lightbulbs
3. All Brand New
4. Blackbird
5. Chicago
6. No Obstacles
7. Chose
8. Step Right Back
9. Take This Beach