Recording information: Arlington, North Carolina; Asheville, North Carolina; Massachusetts, North Carolina.
Photographer: Amber Duntley.
Prior to striking out on his own, Boston-based singer/songwriter Brad San Martin's primary music-making endeavor involved flitting from instrument to instrument as part of the indie pop mini-orchestra (or micro-orchestra, since they became a trio) One Happy Island. Wielding mandolins, ukuleles, glockenspiels, horns, keyboards, and toy instruments, San Martin and his colleagues have churned out a wealth of lighthearted, pleasantly loose EPs and albums for various small labels, mostly located in the U.K. His initial solo foray was a 2009 EP under the name Secret Charisma, though he's since dropped the pretense and now offers up his first proper solo release, 2015's Tell Someone. Like his work with One Happy Island, Tell Someone is a high-spirited affair, bubbling over with good cheer and sweet melancholia. Also like his primary band, San Martin acts as his own personal mini-orchestra, playing every instrument himself and tackling ambitious arrangements with a commendable, shambling abandon. Captured at home on a combination of four- and eight-track recorders, both his talents and foibles are on full display as he delivers winsome charmers like "Lesson Left Me" and "Fall in Love," sawing away at grumbling cellos, falling upward into tricky horn parts, and stumbling into clever time signatures. To his credit, he doesn't make it easy on himself by writing straightforward song structures with easy chord changes or use pitch correction, cut-and-paste loops, or any of the other common digital studio tools that have become almost second nature to most home recordists. From the sound of it, he didn't even use a click track, which is no easy feat when stacking parts the way he does. The resulting sound is colorful, ramshackle, and totally honest. For some, San Martin's unkempt lo-fi studiocraft and warbling voice will come across as too lightweight and twee, but there is definitely an audience for what he does and his earnest enthusiasm feels completely genuine. ~ Timothy Monger