Album Review: Ethan Crowley’s Debut Album “Drowning in a Glass of Water”

SARATOGA SPRINGS – Putting his stamp on the music world at an early age, Saratoga-based artist, Ethan Crowley, released his debut album Drowning in a Glass of Water, on Aug. 22. Nine songs in length, the album is filled to the brim with pop production, and a ton of aesthetics that permeate the genre. Fans of this style of music should definitely not sleep on this artist, as it seems that following the release show held at the historic Caffe Lena, Crowley is just getting started.

Drowning in a Glass of Water, album art.

“Let’s Run Away” features a simple keyboard part that quickly establishes the piece’s overarching motif, serving as the intro. Temporarily, bass and acoustic guitar enter, before receding as the vocals come in. During the verse, Crowley deftly shows the power of his lower vocal range, while the choruses do a great job of showing the upper side. After the first chorus, drums enter into the mix. As the final chorus ends, followed by a brief guitar solo, the instrumentation strips down for one more verse before the piece concludes.

While I am used to having openers be instrumentals, Crowley makes an interesting choice with the next track. “Stage Crush,” track two, begins with an electric piano chord, before a count-in from Ethan is given. Then, we hear a fuzzy, overdriven guitar part play through a series of chord changes; going up and up the scale in a predictable, but effective fashion. As this section ends, drums enter in a style reminiscent of the big drum sounds from the 1980’s. Like the previous track, this is a ballad, though it serves as a clear interlude into the next song, given that it’s instrumental.

With track three, “In My Dreams,” immediately following, listeners are greeted with a plaintive eighth-note chordal pattern performed on the piano, that soon serves as accompaniment for the vocals. As the chorus part begins, we hear a soft bass part played in the background. Remorseful, and nostalgic, this feeling is further amplified by the string parts that enter after the first chorus. The chord changes in the bridge bring an interesting flavor to the track. Curiously, the progression is set up in a way that almost demands a key change, but none ever comes. The listener isn’t sure if this is a way the artist decided to build tension and conflict, but if it is, it definitely works!

Following up with “Losing My Mind,” the next song begins with an extremely spacious electric piano, along with a vocal. Soon, however, harmony is added, as well as a pulsing synth that greatly adds texture. With that said, the gaps in the instrumentation remain prevalent throughout the first half of the piece. This effective arrangement choice gives the song plenty of room to grow. Another facet of this track that serves as a solid arrangement tactic, is using bits of audio from what seems like a conversation the narrator of the song had with the person the lyrics are directed at. The bridge is definitely the most instrumentally complex bit. While the busyness of the track ebbs and flows, having the chorus remain simple is a strong songwriting choice on Crowley’s part.

Serving as another “song-between-songs,” is track five, “She Upgraded.” The major and minor chord oscillations on this piece groove well with the lo-fi hip hop hi-hat rhythms being performed (think of a groove popularized by Questlove). The lyrics are all spoken-word from a girl that is discussing her major disappointments with a failed relationship. This short tune immediately kicks into the next.

In “Like a Game,” the intro is largely built on various keyboard parts, along with a simple but strongly delivered vocal. It isn’t until the chorus that the drums enter. The pulsing synth during the chorus almost goes against the grain of the overall rhythm of the tune, yet this adds to the musical tension. As the next verse soon follows, we hear what seems like a warbling backup vocal section come into play; it’s as if there’s so much processing on it that it sounds like it’s being played through a synth. For the outro, all the other instrumentation cuts out, save for a lone keyboard and vocal, before the song concludes.

Beginning the next song, “603,” with acoustic guitar and vocal is a great way of switching up the album a bit, keeping at bay any potential monotony. That being said, while there are vocal swells, as well as thinning and thickening of the overall vocal quality, it isn’t until the end that another instrument – piano – enters. For this listener, more instrumentation would’ve been preferred, though it should be stressed this is just a personal choice.

Crowley seems to be a fan of spoken-word pieces to get certain feelings across, as we heard with “She Upgraded.” With “Mind and Body,” this aspect of his delivery is further shown. This track begins with dissonant piano playing, and soon after a spoken-word part enters. The piano passage remains fairly consistent, as its notes and dynamics shift with the dialogue of what seems like a guided group-meditation session (which is also perfectly in-line with the title of the tune). The title of the track, when paired the lyrics from the piece, “everybody just really wants to be happy,” really gel well together to deliver the overarching meaning of the record.

Concluding the album is “Time Well Spent.” Crickets and a lightly played acoustic guitar part serve as the intro’s instrumentation. As a guitar interlude brings us to the verse, the crickets recede and we hear a greatly produced and BIG sounding vocal part. In the distant background, listeners will be able to pick out a subtle keyboard part. What this song does well is demonstrates Crowley’s ability to flip effortlessly into his falsetto, a vocal quality that sounds deceivingly easy, but is actually quite tough, especially when executed as clearly as he does. As the song nears its end, we hear a very similar guitar interlude that we did in the intro. Then, as the acoustic guitar player slides his hand on the strings after the passage, the song – and therefore the album – conclude.

Sometimes it’s said that people need to be of a certain age to truly understand what life has to throw at you. If this is the case, Crowley is certainly an exception to the rule, filling a lot of his songs with lyrical depth. Coupling that with great pop production (there’s sheen on this record that stretches for days!), Drowning in a Glass of Water, serves as a great introduction for this young artist’s recording career. Check it out for yourself here.

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