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Is Ramon a thoughtful, intricate study of queer relationships in twenty-first century culture, or is it just an excellent pop record? The answer, unsurprisingly, is both. Singer/songwriter Caleb Nichols has spent their career navigating the heteronormative world from an alternative perspective, from their work with Soft People to their own solo work, as well as outside music. Their second album Ramon presents a folky rock/pop song cycle exploring the aspects of the relationship between a pair of gay lovers. That’s not to say that every tune zooms in on a specific point in the timeline – some songs are more about each participant’s mindset at the time, from the self-explanatory meditation “Listen to the Beatles” to the yearning and, yes, Beatlesque “Run Rabbit Run.” But it’s songs like the quiet “Ramon,” the seething “Jerome” and the unsentimental “(I Fell in Love on) Christmas Day” that really zero in – boy meets boy, boy is undeniably attracted but not sure about all this, boy breaks other boy’s heart, life goes on, painfully but inevitably. It may seem like a story similar to straight romances, but the wry, rocking “She’s the Beard” puts paid to that idea. Nichols’ shimmering, melodic settings – undeniably, sometimes eerily reminiscent of Elliott Smith – feel perfect for the snapshots they take here. Sometimes gorgeous, sometimes gnarly, both musically and emotionally, Ramon feels like an obvious landmark in Nichols’ discography.
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