The musical stylings of actors tend to shift towards three distinct directions: the rarely good (a la Tenacious D… if that’s your thing), the mostly bad (like Billy Bob Thorton’s Boxmasters), and the occasionally strange (Did you know that Keanu Reaves once filled I on bass for The Vandals at a New Years show?). Most would assume that lovable mumbleman Michael Cera would fall into either a whiny sub-genre of “bad” or at least firmly plant his now-musical ass in “strange,” but it looks like dear ‘ol Paulie Bleaker might have some serious musical chops after all. It’s been awhile since Michael Cera’s played a mild-mannered musician in a motion picture (right?), so that fact alone already reduces the chance of True That achieving the lofty statuses of “vanity project” or “tie-in cash grab.” Sorry to say, but Cera’s album actually sounds like a true labor of love and dedication to the craft of songwriting.
Rather than releasing a bare bones, sadness-and-cigarettes folk album recorded on the cheapest microphone on the market (y’know, like you’d expect from Mr. Juno-Man), the album is surprisingly closer to Elvis Depressedly lo-fi than it is to Kimya Dawson lo-fi. Most of the album is laid out in a dreamy, layered and carefully orchestrated atmosphere of soft sounds and fuzzy tones that take full advantage of the lo-fi aesthetic (as well as it should- Michael Cera should have the money to go to a proper fucking studio and not just record in his bedroom through a webcam mic — not that there’s anything wrong with that) and reflects the talent of a seemingly seasoned musician with a bevy of influences. Not only do you get standard-shiny-folk-chord fodder, but you get a splash of ragtime piano, classical guitar stylings (a BIG deal when most lo-fi musicians are assumed to trip over their simple C and G chords and bash their strings with resounding percussive fury), a few psychedelic Beatles-esque melodies and some Moody Blues effects clouds. Hell, the song “Humdrummin” reminds me of a couple tracks from the Earthbound soundtrack with its use of quirky, upbeat and yet still quietly unsettling sounds it conjures.
As far as cons go, while the album racks up at a beefy 18 tracks, some of the song lengths clock in at around a minute and a fair share of them end up resembling nice ideas for use in future songs rather than something worthy of its own track. The lack of vocals on most tracks and the repetitive nature of others might put some people off and leave the album as little more than perfect background music, better suited for some nice atmosphere while they’re off doing something else. Lyrics, when they’re present, are offer nothing truly remarkable or catching.
There are definitely things to like about this album. And those bothered by the name Michael Cera attached to it should honestly give it a listen before dismissing it as a rank attempt by a man venturing outside his artistic comfort zone. Hell, if somebody played it for me and asked if I believed that this was what Michael Cera’s album would sound like, they certainly would’ve gotten a big “HELL no.”