A Northern Irish lad transplanted to London, Aaron McMullan has previously released 5 free internet-only recordings through his website. The apparently “craggy-toothed bugger” signed to Ex Libris in 2006 and has now released his debut album Yonder! Calliope?, backed by a bunch of people affiliated with the label.

McMullan’s backing band are the best thing about this album. They craft a loose and airy atmosphere that is often better than the former-punk’s acoustic folk. Taking Sinead In Savage Purple as an example, where McMullan uses his default vocals, which is to say bludgeoning, on a soft ballad-like song. His voice strains towards delicate and damaged, but such is it’s nature he only manages damaged and actually smashes the delicate side. His guitar picks and strums a soporific (in a bad way) tune, which is outclassed by echo-y and reverb-ed electric guitar and a lovely piano surrounding him in the mix. Another example of brilliant backing comes on Broke Sun Fixed which has drawn-out notes that sound like an underwater choir with excellently minimal percussion and a beautiful violin. In contrast, McMullan warbles about romanticizing his self-pitying and pain (a recurring theme on this album).

One of the few rays of light comes in the form of the Ode To Innocence. The central acoustic guitar is up to scratch and a backing reverb-y guitar plays a few up-lifting notes over and over, while a brilliant base hits perfect tones at a glacial pace. McMullan’s vocals find the right spots over and over, broken AND delicate, the music progresses perfectly, especially when everything drops away to just an acoustic guitar. An uplifting melancholy, a swarm of butterflies and the heart-rending line, “Let me taste my youth with every breath”.

A damaged and ragged voice is just as good as a beautiful and sweet sounding one, Bob Dylan and Tom Waits are proof enough of that. The reason why McMullan’s voice fails on this album is because there seems to be no forethought behind it. A voice doesn’t have to be beautiful, but the way it is used does. McMullan’s navel-gazing and frankly teen-aged musings drag almost everything good about this album down.

Let me be clear, McMullan is not without talent, Ode To Innocence displays this, there are just aspects to this album that show him at his worst. He does have talent and a very supportive record label in Ex Libris, the ability to create a good album in other words. It just remains to be seen whether he will rise out of the youthful awkwardness and seemingly paradoxical arrogance shown on Yonder! Calliope? Check out his myspace (Ode To Innocence is on there) and maybe download one of the free recordings he has linked on there and see what you think.

Aaron McMullan [official site] [myspace]