The nine-track, full-length release entitled True Believer features Sydney’s Michael Cullen, a moody, poetic singer/songwriter who weaves an interesting listening experience built around the singer’s baritone voice. Released at the start of this month, this alternative rock album features Cullen on both vocals and instruments. In a world of digitally produced music, he makes his with tape machines, tube microphones, and other analogue equipment. Perhaps this is due to the fact that he has played in a number of bands in Sydney in the 1980s and 1990s including No Man’s Land, The Hardheads, and Watershed.
The album opens up with the dark tale of “Black Dog”. Cullen’s baritone shares with us a tale of woe accompanied with a strumming guitar, a sometimes ominous drumming style, spoken word bits, and background vocals. The mood is immediately lightened with the following “Believer” thanks to a more upbeat melody and a bright organ. This track also hints at spoken word. I found myself wishing for Cullen to break into more singing, as the first two tracks were intriguing mostly because of his voice, which belongs to an artist wearing all black, smoking a cigarette, and performing solo on a stage dark, save for the spotlight on him.
My wish was granted in “Nothing Special” in which Cullen’s raspy voice carries a bittersweet story of life’s various moments seen as nothing special. Nostalgia imbibed every note and lyric in “Black Coffee and Cigarettes” in which Cullen is again singing. The opening electronic beats and organ notes of “Damaged” are a bit of a surprise, but the lower octave used and the slow beat fit well the rest of the songs and set the mood well for a track with this title.
By the end of that fifth track, I was intrigued by what an artist like Cullen would make of a track titled “Cha Cha Cha d’Amour” (track six). It was nothing that I expected from a song featuring either French or the words “cha cha” in its title, but it was just what I expected from Cullen, albeit with a different flavour: a sultry track featuring sung lyrics weaving a dark tale with a twist of hope. The electronic keyboard is back in “I Walk Alone” and the strumming that opened the album returns in “I Never Knew”. But the closing “Broken Horses” goes to a completely different, upbeat, energizing, drum-driven place quite unique to this album.
True Believer is an intriguing listening experience that lovers of slower, darker rock (ex. Nick Cave) featuring a deep baritone voice and spoken word will enjoy. The album is available for streaming on SoundCloud. More information is available on his official website and on his Facebook page.
Pictures provided by Independent Music Promotions.