With Piano, Alexis Taylor delivers probably his quietest and most intimate record. Consisting solely of Taylor’s voice, the titular instrument and a dozen gorgeous songs, the album offers us a glimpse at the Hot Chip man’s sincere side.

The opening “I’m Ready” comes on like a confession between singer and audience. Taylor acknowledges that he’s reached a kind of crossroads, one where he must put aside the masks and sly humor that he’s worn and employed from time to time. He doesn’t have to work hard to convince us, though, because his effortlessly beautiful voice (which sometimes recalls Harry Nilsson’s) carries the song. It’s heartfelt, clear-eyed and indicative of what comes.

There are nods to Laura Nyro (“So Much Further to Go,” “Repair Man”), one of those love song-cum-hymns (“In The Light of the Room”) and thoughts of escape (“Just for a Little While”). Taylor never raises his voice for unneeded emphasis, never bangs and pounds when letting the chords sustain in solemnity will do and he’s never less than honest in the emotions the lyrics convey. Sometimes he’s a man about to walk away from it all; sometimes he’s a man who wants to walk back in; sometimes he isn’t sure where to go or where to turn, but he keeps moving on.

The boldest he gets comes via the penultimate “Don’t Worry,” one of several instances where we find ourselves wishing that Taylor had been born some decades earlier and could have given us a long string of confessional singer-songwriter records in the ‘70s. Having Piano now, though, might be better because it reminds us that simplicity and sincerity can save the day and that a little dose of sentimentality never killed anyone.

More than that, Taylor never has to try that hard. He certainly didn’t write “Crying in the Chapel” and it’s certainly not something we’d expect from him, but his rendition is a revelation and for a moment or two we believe that he’s revealing the song to us for the first time. The same might be said for the stripped-back rendition of Crystal Gayle’s “Don’t It Make My Brown Eyes Blue,” arguably the best piece on the record.

That all the songs hang together nicely is probably no surprise; Taylor’s been making cohesive records for years now. But it’s refreshing to hear, especially from a record and an artist that takes a risk such as this one.

This isn’t some new direction from Taylor, though. It’s a stopping point in a career that’s eclectic and
imaginative. It’s a record that hits us in the right place at the right time. As more and more music focuses on the outer limits of technology and we’re told that we’re growing apart despite all the attempts to unite us via electronic interconnectivity, being reminded that the simplest, most direct route can still be the best is a necessary and welcome revelation.

Piano isn’t a perfect album; it could be sheared of one or two cuts that would make the impact greater. Still, it’s one of the most lovable and refreshing recordings you’ll hear this year.

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