Last Time Only – Anything For You – EP Review
If memory serves correctly, this is the third time I’ve reviewed the music of Last Time Only, the acoustic-based solo-project from Jared Woodruff. I feel like I always look forward to seeing LTO pop onto the playlist with something new – I’m pulling for this guy to make that all-important breakthrough to that next-level he’s seeking out and the potential has always been there.
Musicians and bands of all kinds throughout music’s entire history have had their ups and downs…sometimes what sounds like a step backwards can often be what propels that next project, album or single to hit the mark perfectly. If I’m being entirely honest with Jared here today in the review for Anything For You – I’d say this particular EP is a bit on the confusing-side of music in comparison to what we know and what we’ve heard from him in the past. I feel like he might have rushed himself a bit on this one, despite notable improvements to the overall sound and production of what we hear…in terms of the melodies and vocals, this record kind of left me feeling like he could have gotten more out of each song if he’d allowed himself more time to do so. The Anything For You EP made it audibly clear to me that Jared is still searching for his own reliable approach to the music he writes…still searching for that signature identity in his own sound where he’s right in the pocket and rolling along smoothly. You can hear the struggle to find that identity more-so in this record than I believe you could in the past material from Last Time Only…but through trial & error, we all find out what truly works for us best, don’t we?
My first impression of the Anything For You EP was actually that it might be an ideal time for Jared to make the switch from acoustic to electric. Don’t get me wrong, I get the ideal logistics of being an acoustic performer…but if I’m asking myself what kind of songs is he really writing here based on the way that he wants to sing these melodies, I’d have to admit that on much of this record it seemed his added growl & energetic bursts might be better suited to an electric environment. I really did like & appreciate that you can hear from the beginning moments of the title-track “Anything For You” that the production has certainly improved…in terms of the quality of sound, I’d say this record is absolutely a step in the right direction. Now it’s just all about finding that matching energy to suit the melodies. On “Anything For You” Jared starts out on somewhat shaky ground vocally…I think he has his best moments when harmonizing with himself in the mix & sounding strong in the tones of the chorus. The verse might go beyond its fragile charm and appeal, dipping slightly into territory that audibly sounds less confident and sure of itself – it sounds like an extremely new song for Last Time Only and at times not exactly sure of which way to conform to its structure or which way to turn next. Where Jared slows it down & simplifies the melody in the main lines that exit the chorus, he’s at his most effective and proving that getting the best out of ourselves doesn’t require anything to ever be too complicated. It’s an ambitious first tune…I admire the energy he puts into it but I’m not sure if the contrasting sweetness in the acoustic-sound completely worked with the more aggressive sound in the vocals throughout “Anything For You.” My suspicion would be that Jared probably already feels like he plays this song more consistently now that he knows it inside & out, long after its been recorded…which again, is natural for many of us to feel that way. When we first write something, we’re often sure of the direction we think we want to take…then as we learn it more we discover new avenues to take the melody down and explore them more. At times in listening to “Anything For You” I felt like I could hear him in between those two phases and a little unsure of which ‘mode’ he was going to approach the tune with…the result of something like that is a bit like the sound of changing horses midstream. To be fair to Last Time Only however…Dashboard Confessional always sounded very similar to that description as well, and of all bands I can think of for better or worse, Dashboard Confessional is definitely what reminds me of Last Time Only.
And I don’t want anyone out there to get me wrong either…I’m not suggesting that Jared can’t sing, I just think he needs to really examine that energy and how it suits the atmosphere in the songs and take his time to find that perfect space within it. I don’t mind the rambling-style of lyricism that starts out something like “Leave The Gun, Take His Heart” – but it’s songs like this that also leave you wondering if Last Time Only is looking to be more like something we’ve heard or eventually find that new terrain to exist in. “Leave The Gun, Take His Heart” also confirmed what I felt about that first song as well – Jared’s strongest moments absolutely come through in the simplest parts of his structures and melodies. Without a multitude of words to hinder his tone, you’ll hear what I’ve been saying all along – he can definitely sing, he just needs to slow the process down and allow himself the freedom to get it right as right can be without worrying about time-limits. So to whomever it is out there poking Jared with a sharp stick in the recording booth making him get these songs out immediately because he’s about to go on a gigantic world tour and crush stages & groupies every night – QUIT IT. Or in the event that none of this was on schedule just yet…then Jared…take your time brother! I listen to the ending of “Leave The Gun, Take His Heart” and THAT’s the guy I’m looking for…that final minute is full of expression, power and connection to the words and it sounds REAL because it all truly fits from tone to energy, atmosphere & mood, lyrics & music. I also felt that overall, “Leave The Gun, Take His Heart” fit his acoustic-style much more than the title-track…but really, it’s that last switch into a simplified structure with repetition and harmonies within the final minute that stole the show for me on this tune overall.
“Colorado Night Skys” would be the best example of what I’m talking about when I’m suggesting that Last Time Only is still ultimately looking to define that signature sound and audibly searching for it. Writing-wise, he’s got himself a potential hit here if I’m being entirely honest…but it would need to be re-tooled a bit for sure. The powerful moments in Jared’s vocals often end up sounding more bold & confident for obvious reasons – but also usually more reliable in their tone because the energy is being put right into the performance at the same time. Lower-key moments can often be the toughest parts of music to pull off as a singer…conveying solid tones can be way harder when the energy surrounding them in the music isn’t there. When Jared launches into the approach of intensity in the lyrics of “Colorado Night Skys” for the first time, the music hasn’t caught up to him yet – as a result it sounds a bit confused & threadbare. It gives him trouble when he hits the chorus on this one with the ‘find myself again’ line and how he exits it from it…because he’s got more energy in the words than you’ll find in the music…and it’s because of this that often those lines seem a little awkward drifting back into the music & melody of the song. Rhythm-wise, idea-wise…I think he’s on solid ground here…I even dig the added tremble & darkness of the very beginning of the opening verse – reminded me of our own Matthew Good a bit…but as the energy in the vocals and music increased, so did the sound of caution. The dissonant tones of the vocals can be a bit jarring on this EP with the brightness in the music, even on more rock-influenced tunes in his catalog like this one is. I will say this – the way that Jared launches into the chorus is damn near perfection – when he first cranks up the aggression between verse and chorus as he hits that powerful first line during the transition, especially later on in the song, it’s something you’ll notice for its boldness each and every time. So…it’s got some great moments, it’s got some confusion too but the ideas driving “Colorado Night Skys” lyrics and music have potential.
“Over You” takes him into softer territory, sounding almost like something from the mid-90’s like Athenaeum or Dog’s Eye View in its mix of melancholy & sweetness. One of the shortest tunes on the new EP, Last Time Only still packs in a ton of words into “Over You,” but noticeably, there’s also more space provided for Jared to sing it out. Outside of the verses, he allows his vocals to expand and he’s doing a commendable job of keeping his humble tones sounding focused here. The recurring theme in much of what I’m hearing certainly corresponds with that I’m saying…the more space he allows for himself & the more he focuses on his tone, the more right he gets it all and the more complete the idea ends up sounding to us as listeners. He’s got decent hooks in “Over You” and he executes this one well…another minute longer and who knows what might have happened, you can hear the spirit was catching him at the end there and the energy about to pick itself up again towards the song’s very end.
If it’s ideas we’re talking about though, then “Self Destruction 2.0” probably gets the award on this EP in my opinion. SOME of this song is damn frustrating…I can’t lie to Jared and I wouldn’t lie to any of you here either – he’s too flat on the opening verse and it’s moments like this that CHOKE me when you know how capable someone truly IS. THIS is where time is truly required and examination needs to be open, honest and criticisms communicated…that automatic inclination we all have to settle needs to be shelved and sometimes another performance needs to be argued for. Because LISTEN to how quickly he snaps out of that first verse and finds exactly where he belongs throughout the REST of the song! Is that fair? To him? To us? Who’s in charge here? – I want to speak with the manager! Without a doubt, “Self Destruction 2.0” is the gem of this EP…a song that genuinely hits that mark of sincerity and real emotion that completely connects to us all at our very cores. So again, idea-wise…this is absolutely nailed…writing-wise, he’s got great lyrics and great music all laid out & waiting for him to make this a masterpiece; I think with another shot or two at this one in the booth, he’ll have what he’s really looking for. Brilliant placement of the backing vocals and subtle layers that add to the harmonies on “Self Destruction 2.0” – he’s really done an exceptional job of writing this one and any adjustments to this tune would only be minor. Highly accessible & inviting sound to this tune, despite what the title might have you believing prior to listening to it…really beautiful melody to the music and great emotion woven into his words here that comes across innocently, sweetly & sincerely.
The music took the spotlight on the final track “I See Regret In My Future” for me personally. I liked that the guitar-lines sounded a bit more involved here…and yet again found myself surprised at the aggressive direction that Jared takes the vocals of Last Time Only into – I didn’t see this one coming from its opening tones. At times, the idea really works well…others just slightly wide of the mark but not too far off…I think if anything, it’s the constant contrast that exists between the music & vocals of “I See Regret In My Future” that makes it more tough to discern if you’d love it or leave it. Definitely goes back to one of the original points I was making about his vocals being more suited to the electric-side of music…I went back & forth on this final cut because there really IS something about his performance on this last track that does have a real magic to it too. “I See Regret In My Future” is structurally sound; it flows and moves really well and sounds compelling to listen to – and you can certainly hear that Jared is putting 100% into his performance on this cut, which I think is largely what put me on his side here in the final moments of the Anything For You EP.
Some positives, some things to consider…and still a ton of potential in this songwriter to go on to beat the odds over time. Chances are…Last Time Only is still fortunate enough like the rest of us to not have management beating down his door for that next album, single or video – in which case, the biggest advantage we ALL share, is time itself. Take those deep breaths on the way into the booth, relax, focus and take however much time you need to get it all as close to right as you can…because your music, time and effort are always worth whatever extra minutes of your life it might take. But as I’ve often said to people in my own studio, as musicians when we record our music…if we don’t end up getting the full 100% out of ourselves and we get something 95% right – guess what we hear? Because it doesn’t end up being the glory of getting it almost right and enjoying that 95% for the achievement it truly was – it completely ends up being the hell of listening to the 5% you wish you’d taken the time to perfect for the rest of time. His ideas are secure…his sound/style is tried, tested & true…just a matter of ironing-out the small stuff and really finding that harmony that exists between the music & vocals in each moment. I continue to root for this guy…I might not think the Anything For You EP is necessarily a step backwards or step forward for Last Time Only, but I do think there is valuable insight to be gained from this experience that will certainly contribute to a potentially even brighter future.
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