Connor McGinnis doesn’t come from a specific place, but
rather from a kind of placelessness brought about by dizzying
motion. Born in Boston to Midwestern parents, he was partly-
raised in London, until he was moved again to New Mexico, to
New York, to Colorado — and so on. These days he’s in
Nashville. As a result of his own transient upbringing, Connor’s
songs are similarly displaced vignettes. It’s that very sense of
distance that informs his debut solo release, The Viewer.
From the near-lighthearted nostalgia of “Pink Flamingo
Blues” to the biting and insightful criticism of “Black Friday,” the
nine songs on the album manage to cover an expansive amount of
ground. However, unlike many contemporary “American” songs,
these aren’t sentimental stories of hometown heroes finding love
down on Main Street — they are detached observations as out a car window, bittersweet ruminations like the empty sensation of
passing through a nameless, forgotten town.
First and foremost, The Viewer places Connor as the
anonymous observer, the omniscient narrator inviting us to
suspend our disbelief at our own relationship to his stories. His
writing, though, strikes inward as much it does outward, thanks to
his calculated awareness of the wrongs of the world and his
participation in them. The album is a constellation of portraits,
short snapshots of ungraceful love, bereavement, guilt, and the
necessity of “letting go” when what was possible ultimately
crashes against what is real.
“You think she left for good this time/flew off on some
airline/as you squeeze out your lime/ and say good things never
last. I know it’s been a hell of a year, collecting new regrets like
The sonic palette of the record, produced by Gabe Rabben, is
a departure for Connor, who formerly released two EPs with the
New Mexico-based folk duo, The Zuni Mountain Boys. Though
The Viewer certainly has elements of Americana, the album
seems to take its cues more from the likes of Bruce Springsteen’s
Tunnel of Love or Steve Winwood’s Back in the Highlife. Gated
drums and bright synthesizers punctuate McGinnis’s stark, no-frills
gravel, which sits high in the mix above the slick production.
Conversely, in “Black Friday,” only a lone fingerpicked
guitar accompanies his direct vocal delivery. The remaining space
creates room for the fierce rebuke of American consumer-culture
and our plastic materialism — all while acknowledging the
narrator’s own complicity. The simplicity of the arrangement is
powerfully juxtaposed against its central theme: “God bless
America/it doesn’t get you much.” This contrast makes the song
one of the bleakest and most profound on the record.
McGinnis has moved around a lot and you get a sense of how
that displacement occupies his writing; he belongs both
everywhere and nowhere at once. The resulting melancholy and
contemporary isolation is all over this record, which gives it a home
in this modern world: at some moments a fantasy and at others just
a bad dream. The strength and power of The Viewer is its narrator
as its centerpiece: a lonesome observer who wants to see clearly
what he is searching for, but for the most part is looking alone.
The Viewer is a perfectly postmodern, 21st -century
statement: wearisome, vaguely angry, and resigned — but still not
vanquished. It expresses our own current cultural moment all too
well: at our worst cynical and detached, and at our best still asking
the questions that hold us back from the edge of despair.