Dylan Shearer
Yik Yak

The unassuming debut by Oakland’s Dylan Shearer, Planted/Plans, brings to focus how exposure can become a double-edged sword for singer-songwriters of his pedigree. I bought Planted/Plans on a whim. I was initially drawn to the record’s handmade qualities, the glowing desert island motif, the anonymity of the artist and the music contained within. Before even taking up the standard routine of researching the origin of my new treasure, I chose to immerse myself in the songs and make my own conclusions. On first listen, Planted/Plans played like a long-lost relic of mid-70s British folk, or maybe a one-off exorcism by some slightly deranged outsider, and if it be modern, than it was the life’s work of an aging recluse who troubled and toiled over years of tape to piece together a cohesive statement of his spirit’s design. Alas, with a couple keystrokes and click-throughs the truth was revealed that Shearer was a 20-something of average means from the West Coast and was subscribed to a number of social networking sights. I suppose I can’t blame him for wanting to be plugged in, but I was mere pages away from seeing his class of ’97 yearbook photo. This was certainly not the mythology that I was hoping to dig up, or not to find altogether. Perhaps it was my own fault for wanting to know more, when in fact the record told me everything I needed to know.

Planted/Plans does well to maintain an imagined myth for the listener, even if the guy’s life is now broadcast via Twitter. From the very beginning of “Fistfull of Forestry (at Porchlight),” it’s apparent that Shearer is cut from a completely different cloth than his contemporaries. If he were to have a comparable peer from the last decade it would arguably be Jeff Mangum of Neutral Milk Hotel, only manifested in Shearer’s constant tug-o-war between his pastoral and baroque playing, along with the emotional heft attached to that struggle. But where Mangum’s vision was ornate and full of whimsy, corralling makeshift orchestras of tubas and singing saws, Shearer’s content with the simple things that might be strewn about his bedroom. Each acoustic wallow is gilded or crusted with a little banjo here, a little mandolin there, some wheezing organs, and a crippled piano. In Shearer’s quest to balance his innate sense of both the bucolic and the luxuriant, a song like “Stopdrop Illuminating” has these two lines instead crossing paths. There never is a comfortable balance, and most of Planted/Plans exists in this fluid waver, shifting and stumbling to find Shearer’s pop center. On this song in particular, it’s as if Skip Spence were asked to conduct the Fairport Convention. For the most part, though, it is melancholy that strikes the deepest with Shearer, carving away at uncanny melody till some sunlight shines through. “The Comfort with You,” in following this form, arrives with the potential to expand into a grandiose hymnal via the organ lungs heaving, the fog lifting—all fine until the pub comes calling, or the memories, and the tune falls back on its heels. “Leash Walk” exhibits that same pressure upon equilibrium. In some time-space continuum the Red Krayola’s Mayo Thompson had switched roles in rock history with Paul McCartney, and now “Uncle Albert” is a subversive slice of psychedelic bricolage. These are the contradictions and what-if situations that make Planted/Plans not just another folk-pop record with a bent for Syd Barrett at its most blurred and Robert Wyatt at it’s most serene.

There are moments when all appears clear and leveled. The laser precision of “Motivation Shuffle” is an obvious highlight benefitting from pulling back the reigns and magnifying Sheaer’s effortless hooks and delicate finger-picking. The same can be said for “Then,” which is reminiscent of the knurled and dramatic piano ballads of Epic Soundtracks or the oft-overlooked Plush. Be it bongo happy on “Courtesies and Hindsights” or curtly idiosyncratic with his hooks on “Dailydoms,” Shearer has made an album that has a permanent line running through it. Though Planted/Plans strikes a chord with both misery and hope, directly in the middle runs an awkward yet beautifully attractive hybrid of those emotions. Either purged or absorbed, obscure or illuminated, public or private, Shearer emotes a voice that will surely outlive his Facebook account.
Kevin J. Elliott