The Lounge. It’s a place where couples swing until the sun comes up, women don exotic furs and men don’t dare stain their tuxedos with drips from the Old Fashions they drink. The music sways lazily from wall to wall, occasionally picking up steam with vigor only to retreat into a haze of intricately crafted beauty, sparse jazz chords ringing from the guitar, brushes cleaning up snare drums far and wide. It’s a hip place, The Lounge. It’s unconditionally cool.
It’s also the place where Nathan Ploski’s “Love In Motion” should want to live. The problem is that it resides there for only about half its five-song time limit, opting instead for easier, more accessible approaches. Such is a shame, considering how clear it is that the Frederick singer-songwriter knows The Lounge is where he belongs the most; yet he just can’t help himself from exploring other rooms.
But we’ll get to those. First, the good stuff. “Foxes Spy,” the opening track and easily the best song here, swings as easily as any 21st-century playground, David Lester’s bass holding down a groove that’s half “James Bond,” half 2:30 a.m. in a lonely cellar bar. Meanwhile, Ploski’s clean jazz guitar offers all the breeze anyone could ask for, creating the perfect atmosphere to back his matured, show-biz croon. Sure, he’s no Sinatra, but damn if Seth Macfarlane wouldn’t force a grin to this stuff.
The smiling stops, however, as Ploski and his trio get further and further away from their natural habitat. “Tethered” is the most comparable to “Foxes,” kicking up the tempo in tasteful ways while still maintaining a healthy distance from anything remotely resembling aggression. That’s a good thing, what with the song’s jangle-obsessed feel making it impossible not to bop up and down with the groove. It’s right at the sweet spot between where the singer’s talents are at their best and where they begin to feel forced.
As for where they feel forced, check the oddly smarmy “Uncomfortable.” Seemingly about love gone wrong, the track is a kiss off from a guy who has a voice that literally sounds incapable of being angry. Throw that on top of music most commonly found in a 1968 elevator and the dichotomy between intention and execution becomes too stark to bear. Plus, it takes the singer further away from The Lounge, which, remember, is where he belongs the most.
That distance becomes larger with “Washed Away,” the EP-ending ditty that makes Ploski’s rightful home seem a world away. Abandoning all swing, it’s a play for pop that doesn’t serve the Frederick native — or his band — well. Partially failing because of the collective’s apprehension toward their instruments, partially failing because of the songwriter’s desire to force parts that don’t have to be there (the final 30-ish seconds showcases an irrelevant guitar solo that awkwardly stops to end the song), it eliminates all the goodwill Ploski earns elsewhere on the record if for no other reason than how loose everything is presented.
Equally as flimsy is the title track. With an opening guitar lick that’s oddly reminiscent of Sugar Ray’s “Someday,” it encapsulates the guy’s strengths and weaknesses. While the guitar is back to being passive and tasteful, the individual performances aren’t tight enough to warrant a solid song. And that’s to say nothing of the singer’s voice, which doesn’t work in all settings. Here, his proclamations of love feel hollow because of how unbelievable his utterances tend to be. Above all else, they simply need emotion.
Or, well, at least they need emotion if he wants to veer into pop music territory. And that’s why “Love In Motion” can be such a frustrating listen: Nathan Ploski’s ceiling is much higher in The Lounge than it is in any of the other rooms he insists on visiting. “There’s going to be a couple bumps and some scraped knees,” he croons on the aforementioned pedestrian title track.
Well … not if you stay where you should, sir.
** 2 STARS OUT OF 4 **