A record named The Quiet Life from a guy named Dylan Gilbert raises several red flags: How can it be anything but another half-formed boy-and-his-guitar record, with gentle acoustic finger-picking, overwrought reflections on past relationships, and mixed metaphors about stars and notebooks and destiny and stuff? That said, The Quiet Life—the second album from the 20-year-young, Charlotte-based, Triangle-frequenting Gilbert—is a pleasant surprise. A flowing 14-song cycle largely about growing up and settling down, The Quiet Life indeed employs a wide range of traditionalist styles and influences. But they're wielded by an arranger who isn't afraid to experiment or get loud, characteristics that often go overlooked by young, white males with six strings who are aiming cleanly for the middle of the road. Instead, The Quiet Life offers flourishes of jangly power chords, several blistering solos and even a menacing post-punk guitar riff on closer "Please Repeat." "No Mystery" patiently reveals an irresistible melody before delving into some kitchen-sink experimentation and spacy synthesizers. "Before My Egg Hatches" sports raucous stomping energy, and "Math" is probably what Modest Mouse would sound like if they played folk-rock with busy trumpets that, at one point, hum like a nest of angry bees.
Gilbert isn't a noise rocker, though, not by any stretch of the imagination. He's still a singer-songwriter, and there are several incumbent intimate acoustic moments. Gilbert is actually at the height of his craft on highlights like "Darlin' Don't Forget My Name" and "I Was All Alone." It's here that his message and the fuss behind this whole "quiet life" come into sharp focus: It's not a sound. It's a concept for obtaining peace of mind, and for finding out how to grow older without losing yourself, all the while trying to discover what "yourself" truly entails. Oh, and love, too. After all, his name is Dylan Gilbert, a boy with a guitar.