Album: Shore Artist: Fleet Foxes Release Date: September 22, 2020 Label: Anti Favorite Tracks:
Can I Believe You
A Long Way Past the Past
I think this is what they call “headphone music” because the rich instrumentation and lush harmonies of Fleet Foxes become readily when pressed up against one’s ears. There’s a definite warmth to the album which according to the band’s frontman, Robin Pecknold “celebrate “life in the face of death.” And so I can say “it speaks to our time of COVID” for about the 100th time in this blog. But if good art is one of the few worthwhile things that the pandemic brings us, then I will accept that.
Blitzen Trapper has always sounded a bit like a throwback band, but on this album they explore a folk rock/alt country sound reminiscent of the late 1960s/early 1970s. Doubly so because the album draws inspiration from the Tibetan Book of the Dead which was also popular during the psychedelic era. Nevertheless, whatever deep metaphysical thoughts are in the lyrics, the tunes are warm and breezy and a pleasure to listen to.
What if I didn’t review any albums for some time and then did a bunch at once? Again?
Album: The Competition Artist: Lower Dens Release Date: September 6, 2019 Favorite Tracks: “Two Faced Love” and “Young Republicans” Thoughts: These songs have a lush sound reminiscent of the 1980s New Romantics. Which is fine, if you’ve listened to all of that 35+ year old music and yearn for more. The big twist is that lyrically it is much more political than romantic. Rating: **1/2
Album: Close It Quietly Artist: Frankie Cosmos Release Date: September 6, 2019 Favorite Tracks: “41st,” “So Blue,” Thoughts: Greta Kline follows up on 2018’s Vessel with another collection of lo-fi folk rock tunes. Her sweet voice clearly sings ruminative lyrics about growing into adulthood. Rating: ***
Album: Crush Artist: Floating Points Release Date: October 18, 2019 Thoughts: This collection of minimalist electronic music from UK musician Sam Shepherd was just what I needed to hear right now. Rating: ****
Album: There Existed an Addiction to Blood Artist: clipping. Release Date: October 18, 2019 Favorite Tracks: “Nothing is Safe,” “The Show, and “Blood of the Fang” Thoughts: This the third album from this experimental hip-hop act from Los Angeles, and first since 2016’s Splendor & Money. There are two great things about this album: 1. the rapid rhymes of Daveed Diggs (of Hamilton fame) and 2. the deep-textured synth sounds he raps over. The lyrics are grim and gory, making it an appropriate addition to your Halloween party playlist. Rating: ****
Album: On the Line Artist: Jenny Lewis Release Date: March 22, 2019 Favorite Tracks:
Heads Gonna Roll
As a brief prelude to this review, a new album from Jenny Lewis reminded me of how much I liked Rabbit Fur Coat, followed by the stunning realization that the album was released in 2006! I discovered Rabbit Fur Coat at the time when I first started becoming aware of new music through podcasts and streaming services, and now my “new way” of consuming music is rather old at 13.
Okay, onto the actual new album, which is Jenny Lewis’ fourth. The album has a retro-sound reminiscent of 70s sunny California pop. This sound is added by the appearance of veteran musicians like Don Was, Ringo Starr, and Jim Keltner in he backing band. Nevertheless, the sound is still fresh, and the lyrics are anything but frothy. Lewis is primarily a storyteller, telling stories of people desiring escape, lost love, and lots and lots of substance abuse. There’s a lot of humor in her lyrics, but often the humor is a way of revealing deeper pains.
Phoebe Bridgers and Conor Obserst have made a career of collaborating with other artists, so it’s natural that they ended up working with one another. Their new album is ten tracks of indie folk rock with sweet harmonies. The pair of singer/songwriters invest the lyrics with raw emotion that holds out hope for redemption.
Album: All the Things That I Did and All the Things That I Didn’t Do Artist: Milk Carton Kids Release Date: June 29, 2018 Favorite Tracks:
Just Look at Us Now
Mourning in America
One More for the Road
I’ve Been Loving You
The folk duo of Kenneth Pattengale and Joey Ryan are reminiscent of Simon & Garfunkel – tight harmonies, introspective lyrics, and understated instrumentation. This is the first album recorded with a backing band, but nevertheless the instruments are restrained, adding resonant bass notes, thumping bass drums, and country twang only to support and emphasize the vocals. Of course, the instrumental performances should not be overlooked, and the 10 minute long “One More for the Road” is highlighted by solos that are not at all indulgent. While much of the album is inward-looking as you’d expect from contemplative folkies, “Mourning in America” is a standout political track. I don’t listen to folk music nearly as often as I did about 15-20 years ago, but this is a standout album.
Frankie Cosmos – the stage name of Greta Kline (a perfectly fine popstar name but I suppose she’s trying to distance herself from her famous parents, Kevin Kline and Phoebe Cates) – sings in a sweet voice over power pop arrangements, sounding kind of like Kimya Dawson crossed with 90s bands like Velocity Girl and Belly. The songs are short and the 18 tracks combined total just over 30 minutes so the album feels over before it really gets started. The music is pleasant but it doesn’t leave a lasting impression on me. Maybe I’ve just gotten too old to relate?
Album: The Thread That Keeps Us Artist: Calexico Release Date: 2018 January 26 Favorite Tracks: “Under the Wheels,” “Flores Y Tamales,” “Eyes Wide Awake,” and “Shortboard” Thoughts:
Calexico is a band that’s been active for more than two decades, although I was not familiar with their work until I heard “Under the Wheels” and decided to check out the rest of the album. As the name implies, this Arizona-based indie rock band takes inspiration from the borderlands between Mexico and the southwestern United States. Those aren’t their only influences though, as listening to this album I heard music similar to John Lennon’s solo work, the 1980s oeuvre of bands like U2 and Midnight Oil, and even surf rock. The feel of the music is cinematic, painting pictures of the desert landscape and the people who inhabit. Lyrically, the songs are topically relevant – perhaps gaining significance from our national political disorder – as border politics and wildfires color the stories of everyday people.
Album: Ruins Artist: First Aid Kit Release Date: 19 January 2018 Favorite Tracks:
Thoughts: Ruins is the latest release from the Swedish folk rock duo of sisters Klara and Johanna Söderberg. I’m inextricably drawn to close, female harmonies and lush instrumentation in all cases, and this is no exception. All the same, I think that First Aid Kit can create music with more bite, and there’s something missing here. Thus it’s good album, worth a listen, but not as great as it could be. Rating: **1/2
I embrace my inner hipster and declare that I have a mad crush on Joanna Newsom. Her latest track “Sapokanikan” relates a hidden history of New York City. I mean, it’s certainly the best song I’ve ever heard that invokes Tammany Hall. Read more about why we love this song at NPR Music.