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Tag Archives: Album Reviews
There’s a winnowing that comes from distance and absence, in a way that reduces our connections with a person, place, or thing to a series of images, portents, and memories. Those remainders linger with us as touchstones of something lost and departed. Stranger in the Alps, the new release from Artist of the Month Phoebe Bridgers, captures the sense of that winnowing, the longing for something missing but still inescapably present, in beautiful melodies and heartrending lyrics.
It’s a feeling given form by Bridgers’ stirring voice. With shades of Gillian Welch and Jenny Lewis, the young singer’s captivating vocal performance provides the backbone for the record. Sometimes her voice is clear and arresting, standing out starkly amid the pleasing arrangements underneath. At others, it’s double-tracked and full of echoes, creating an ethereal, otherworldly vibe that helps conjure the spooks and specters that populate almost every corner of the album.
One of the best things about the Mountain Goats’ voluminous back catalog is that it offers a plethora of entry points to the band and its music, with no two records quite the same. There’s frontman John Darnielle’s lo-fi, Panasonic boom box beginnings. There are the polished but no less earnest tracks from The Sunset Tree and Tallahassee. And there are the band’s recent releases, like Transcendental Youth and Beat the Champ, that take chances on unique concepts and different instrumentation, but don’t lack in lyrical punch or poignancy. There are any number of places to start with the Mountain Goats, and each is worthwhile and approachable on its own terms.
Goths continues in that untraditional tradition. The group’s Bandcamp page boasts that the album has “NO COMPED VOCALS, NO PITCH CORRECTION, NO GUITARS,” and it shows. Musically, Goths is driven by slick bass lines, strong percussion, and a bevy of what sounds like the sort of classroom instruments borrowed from the lesser lights of late night. Goths also leans hard on the horn section the band embraced in earnest on Transcendental Youth. It features heavy doses of synth, different shades of jazz, and even the occasional disco beat that immediately mark it as unique among Mountain Goats records. The band often comes up short in this novel approach, and the new direction can be off-putting for longtime listeners, but it certainly gives Goths a distinct flavor.
Salutations is a surprise. After Ruminations (the 10-track album written and recorded by Conor Oberst in the cold confines of Omaha, Nebraska) came out last year, the news that a second album, with full-band arrangements of those same 10 songs plus seven more, would be released this year was an unexpected bonus. Featuring the contributions of The Felice Brothers and Jim Keltner, it promised a new treatment of some of Oberst’s most raw compositions. The result is a fulsome new release, markedly different from its 2016 cousin.
If nothing else, Salutations is a fascinating look at the changes that come from collaboration and evolution in a studio setting versus the isolation in which these songs were born. Instead of relying solely on piano, acoustic guitar, and harmonica, Oberst and company employ accordions, organs, strings (of both the orchestral and fiddle varieties), and ethereal sound collage elements to build up these tracks and give them a unique character.