Thankfully, Robert Gomez is a Texan. Why is this such a blessing? Were he from the UK, Gomez would be so overhyped that his first solo album, Etherville,couldn't live up to the praise it deserves. Let the disc spin in your player for a full week until the effortlessly lush arrangements charm you, but don't look here for the spicy flavor of Gomez's other band, Latin Pimps, as this is Elliott Smith and Badly Drawn Boy territory. The album's most consistent trait is an unrelenting melancholy, and upon repeated listens, the sorrowful tone proves itself an asset to Etherville. Most troubadours would collapse under the weight of this much depression, yet Gomez steers it with confidence, and thick instrumentation adds much-needed texture to his soft vocals.
In "Flight," he warns, "Don't look down/It only drains you," as a violin and an accordion invoke an Italian sound suitable for a bittersweet gondola ride. The album's strongest track, "Happiness Today," finds a tribal beat sliding into a haunting chorus. So haunting, in fact, that beneath feedback guitars, Norah Jones' backing vocals sound like she has become a timid stalker when she softly echoes Gomez: "Looking up, no rain/Can't wash away our frame." Where other singer-songwriters attempt to preserve a coffeehouse vibe, Gomez confidently immerses himself in a rich environment--and he sounds that much more sophisticated for it.