Release Date: Mar 26, 2013
Record label: PIAS
Genre(s): Pop/Rock, Alternative/Indie Rock, Alternative Pop/Rock
The self-titled 2009 debut by Harper Simon – son of Paul Simon and Peggy Harper – was a folk-rock outing that owed a lot to his dad's fingerpicking elegance and articulate lyricism. You can hear echoes of Simon and Garfunkel's Sixties whimsy on his second album, marinated in sad-swirl guitars that recall Death Cab For Cutie or Elliott Smith (the album is co-produced by Tom Rothrock, who helmed Smith's ornate later albums and members of Wilco and the Strokes appear on the album). Simon's songwriting can feel slight but in a dolorously cute way; on "Bonnie Brae" he falls for a girl who, "came over with a jacket over your shoulder/made you look like Patti Smith." Hubba-hubba.
Two albums into a solo career and Harper Simon is staking a claim for the title – not that hotly contested, if we're honest – of most talented child of a major artist. Not that Paul Simon's 40-year-old son is much of child any more. His 2010 debut was country-folk-pop in a style his dad would have recognised, but Division Street massively amps up a strand that was evident briefly on its predecessor – the influence of cult 90s chamber-popper Eric Matthews.He does so not through employing strings and brass, like Matthews, but via the layering of his reedy but attractive voice, often distanced from the instrumentation, and through an odd but attractive stateliness in the music.
The children of rock icons have it rough. It's a rare case that they'll ever be able to get out of the enormous shadow of their parent's legacies, regardless of how talented they are or how divergent their paths are from those of their folks. As the son of Paul Simon and Peggy Harper, Harper Simon joins this difficult club, making significant waves on his own with a 2009 self-titled debut and now sophomore album Division Street.
Harper Simon’s first record was delicate and rounded around the edges. Apparently, the interest in that sort of finesse can only last for so long. For Division Street, his excellent sophomore effort, Simon recruited a guest list of indie musicians to rival the National’s and put the man responsible for the production on Elliott Smith’s XO, Either/Or and Figure 8, and Beck’s Mellow Gold behind the boards.
To say that Harper Simon has had a curious, somewhat charmed life is an understatement. The son of Paul Simon and Peggy Harper (“silver girl” in the quite famous song ‘Bridge Over Troubled Water), he’s spent many of his 40 years doing exotic, alien things like appearing on Sesame Street, writing music for Abel Ferrara movies, playing in a Nick Drake tribute band with Graham Coxon and, a couple of years ago, delivering his first solo album with the help of a lineup of the greatest surviving Nashville session players available. It’s been a life lived just outside the spotlight, though – while he’s collaborated with and played alongside some legitimate greats, Simon himself has often been cast as something of an enthusiastic supporting player rather than the star of the show.
A paradox (according to most dictionaries that show up on Google) is a seemingly contradictory phrase that, upon investigation, is actually cohesive and true. In this light, Harper Simon’s second LP, Division Street, is wholly a paradox: descriptions that come to mind include “crisply lo-fi,” “cleanly hazy,” “naïvely seductive,” and “gently rough”. Naturally, these might seem a bit mixed up – but with a good listen, Simon’s latest release reveals itself to be a consistent collection of folk-pop tunes.