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You're not sure why you decided to come alone to this karaoke bar. A sudden desire for people-watching, you suppose. You don't sing anything, just nurse a drink near the back. For the first half-hour, nothing out of the ordinary happens. Then, another spectator, one you've noticed hovering by a side wall, takes the stage. A slightly tinny drum machine comes forth from the P.A. The song is instantly familiar, but you can't quite place it. It must be some mostly-forgotten hit from the '80s that you haven't heard in years. At first, the singer's delivery is as shy as you'd expect from a fellow wallflower. But slowly, you come to perceive a deep, quiet confidence in his voice. He obviously knows the song by heart. He occupies it as if it were home. Actually, you think his rendition might be truer than the original performer's, although you still can't recall who that was. Although it might just be your second drink taking effect, you've almost begun to suspect that there is no original, that the enigma on the stage in this unremarkable bar, is, somehow, performing an entirely new song for the very first time. As the tempo slows and he begins to gently croon the next track, you become sure. By some weird turn of Lynchian magic, this man on the stage has reshaped the room to his will, coaxing his own private music out of the karaoke machine.

This is the kind of scenario one imagines when listening to Better Person's smoke machine pop. His (Adam Byczkowski) enigmatic stage presence is matched by his elusiveness as a recording artist output: while he's already toured with the wonderful Canadians TOPS and Timber Timbre, and as keyboard/guitarist with Sean Nicholas Savage, at six tracks It's Only You is his longest release, encompassing the critically acclaimed singles "Sentiment" and "I Wake Up Tired."

While the EP's sonic touchstones – torch songs, Sade, Arthur Russell, synthed-up European and Japanese pop from the 80s, French and Italian movie soundtracks – are all unimpeachably romantic, there's a more Romantic undercurrent of isolation that begins from the way It's Only You was made – all recorded on a computer at home, on Berlin's Pannierstrasse (the same street where Magic Island's Wasted Dawn was recorded last year.) Byczkowski brings to the fore an aspect of the recent embrace of New Romantic soundscapes and R&B emoting: crooning as a form of self-seduction, a kind of therapy, an impossible compromise between the irreconcilable poles of intimacy and isolated self-sufficiency. The title itself casually, elegantly captures the paradoxical phase shift which occurs when the movement toward closeness becomes a plunge into solitude. It's Only You is the sound of turning down the mood lighting so low you're no longer sure if anyone else is there.

The transmutation of being-alone-with into being-alone ignites a fixation on memory, and most especially on its entanglement with place. On repeated listens, It's Only You slowly reveals itself as a work of (self-imposed) exile behind a facade of seduction. In the aftermath of intimacy, one is left with only sensual remnants - smell leads to memory ("I found a smell that takes me home" Byczkowski sings in opener "Somebody Cares") and memories, of home and of people, lead to the question of place and belonging. In "Somebody Cares" "I found a smell that takes me home" leads into "I try to notice all the things around" - reminiscence of there demands attention to here – but he concludes "God only knows where I'm gonna live." "I Wake Up Tired" features the plaintive request "Show me a place / where I feel home" while the refrain in "Everything Cold" asks the question on the mind of every expatriate in Berlin: "Why is everything closed on Sunday night?" In the still astonishing "Sentiment" the singer is left unsure of his identity, with only sentiment remaining, precisely because he will "never be from here." The real revelation of It's Only You may however be the closing track "Your Smell" which, atop a tragicomically funky shuffle, wraps in a cocoon of beautiful confusion all of Byczkowski's themes: lost love, lost locales, and finding oneself again, fleetingly, provisionally, in their pursuit.

Better Person: It's Only You

Somebody Cares Better Person 4'17''
Sentiment Better Person 4'36''
I Wake Up Tired Better Person 4'14''
It's Only You Better Person 1'53''
Everything Cold Better Person 4'34''
Your Smell Better Person 3'36''

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