With deep vocals and deeper lyrics, singer/songwriter Sean Rowe’s latest album cuts to the core.
“The Darkness Dressed in Colored Lights,” set to be released on Friday, is an introspective record that touches on the rawness, as well as the freedom, that comes with heartbreak. Over the course of 11 songs, it travels across several sonic landscapes and moods, from delicate folk to rock.
Rowe, who lives in Round Lake, recorded it in Eau Claire, Wisconsin, before the pandemic was even on anyone’s mind, working with producer and longtime Capital Region collaborator Troy Pohl, as well as Grammy-winning engineer Brian Joseph, who has worked with Bon Iver.
He also worked with a host of other musicians, including drummer/percussionist Shane Leonard, bassist Jeremy Boetcher and pianist Ben Lester, among others. Beyond Pohl, Rowe didn’t know any of the musicians before recording with them; he’d sought them out because of their work, particularly on Anna Tivel’s album “The Question.”
“It was really a blind kind of experience where you just hope everything goes all right,” Rowe said.
Judging from the finished album, it seems to have gone that way.
From the opening track, “Where Are We Now,” mellow guitar accompanies the mournful lyrics:
love don’t feel as light
as it did the day before.
Following that, “To Make it Real” opens with delicate strings and at once upbeat and melancholy vocals. Rowe sings:
All this sky
all this music
One day it will be
The last time
You won’t get it back again
The album title is tucked away in the bridge of that song:
All this darkness
dressed in colored lights
Everything is wrong
But you look so damn beautiful tonight
When it comes to the song’s sound, Rowe channeled Radiohead’s “In Rainbows.”
“What I think Thom Yorke is really famous for is capturing this mood that really draws you in and really transports you. So a song like ‘To Make it Real’ I wanted it to be like that. Even though I care deeply about the words and about what’s actually being said with language, but for that kind of song, it’s really about transporting the listener with the mood of it,” Rowe said.
Later on, the mood picks up with danceable tracks like “Squid Tattoo.” Through romping electric guitar and saxophone, Rowe sings:
I’ve been up too late in this dive bar
I dipped the wrong song into alcohol
Now I love you
But I can’t believe you’re from Ohio
During the recording and editing process, the song presented some challenges.
“Some of them were logistical. But some of them were stylistically, like we were trying some stuff and on a personal level, I thought this is too close to my influences,” Rowe said. “I didn’t know if it was going to make it on there and we rerecorded some of it. Then it worked.”
While there were a few other songs that proved tricky to get just right, they all made it onto the album — “which is kind of rare for me; there’s always something that gets left out,” Rowe said.
The album’s release was delayed because of the pandemic, during which time Rowe played weekly virtual shows to stay afloat.
“It was just crazy. I was going through a personal breakup and I was also trying to figure out what I was going to do to generate some income, like everybody else on the planet,” Rowe said.
“I think fans appreciated something coming out of performing, even if it wasn’t completely ideal. It was something.”
More recently, he’s gotten back to playing live and he’s got a few tour dates on the schedule for later this month and next in Syracuse, Northampton, Massachusetts, Brooklyn and other cities.
“The Darkness Dressed in Colored Lights” is out on Friday via Fluff & Gravy Records. For more information on the album and upcoming shows (virtual and in-person), visit seanrowe.net.