Chris Tsefalas | I’m All Right?

Ultimately, though, the essence of the album is less “a-ha!” and more “yeah, and?” There’s nothing new here, nothing challenging or attention-grabbing.

Portland scene staple and boxer Chris Tsefalas brings some impressive firepower to his debut solo album, I’m All Right? John Moen, of Stephen Malkmus and The Jinks as well as Maroon fame, steps into the ring as producer and drummer. Title-holder Larry Crane, whose work with bands like Sleater-Kinney and Pavement has produced serious gut-punches of albums, serves as engineer and bassist. With this roster, it should have been a clean KO. So why do I feel like I got sucker-punched?

Don’t get me wrong. Tsefalas has crafted a solid album in the “things suck right now, but they’ll be OK” vein. Darkly sparse arrangements provide a nifty tension that gives the generally hopeful lyrics believability while keeping the catchy pop melodies from slipping into a diabetic coma. Songs like “Set Me Up” (based on Tsefalas’ girlfriend attempting to poison him) and “A Wonderful Ride” take on a greater intensity than their hooks might suggest.

There’s also a real sense of progress in the songs, of watching and feeling Tsefalas deal with issues like depression, deferred dreams, and life’s generally erratic nature, yet still gamely bounce back up and try again. “Somewhere Else” neatly captures the weary and grim determination of putting a life right that’s gone tragically wrong while at the same time making it seem actually worth doing.

Ultimately, though, the essence of the album is less “a-ha!” and more “yeah, and?” There’s nothing new here, nothing challenging or attention-grabbing. What’s there is well done, but it feels like it could have been done by anyone. The lyrics themselves, while serviceable, are not exactly fresh or even particularly inspired. They tell stories, but they’re the same stories told countless times before. They also only really function at one level and offer very little to encourage one to come back and plumb their questionable depth. All the oh-ing, ah-ing, and phrase repetition just gives a feeling that he ran out of words before the end of the music.

Tsefalas’ vocal work adds a certain sensitive-guy earnest quality to the tracks at first. By the last track, though, it forces the question: “Where’s the line between emotionally sensitive and annoyingly whiny?”

I really wanted to like this record and not just because I’m pretty sure Tsefalas could beat the hell out of me if I didn’t. As solo debuts go, it’s not a bad effort, but given the pedigree of the people involved, I found myself expecting more and just not getting it. While I can salute and appreciate the fighting spirit behind it, it’s not an album I’d want to go ten rounds with. | Jonathan Peery

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