Every month, we bring you the essential releases in folk music. We call it Electric Ghosts. Read on for takes on Chris Staples, Ryley Walker and more.
Sad songs laced with pedal steel that are sung by a warm, honeyed voice? Yes, I am all in on that. Honest Life is Courtney Marie Andrews’ third LP, and its 10 tracks find her searching for purpose and solid footing and sifting through the heartbreak for meaning. It’s that voice of hers, the one that reminds me so much of Joni Mitchell that at times I’ve got to check to make sure that’s not who is singing the song coming out of my speakers, that carries it all and makes these songs so engrossing and engaging. But it’s those sliding guitar lines and lightly roaring organ that’s sprinkled throughout that allow these songs to rise above and differentiate themselves. This is a perfect record for a quickly ending summer, and it’s one of the finest records I’ve heard in 2016.
There’s nothing incredibly fancy about what Chris Staples does, but that’s why I like it so much. He just writes great songs, ones you want to listen to, ones whose melodies stick in your brain and words pop up out of thin air as you go about your business. Sometimes his lyrics are witty or clever, but he’s never cheeky or too cute, which is good cause we’re all too old for joke songs. Golden Age is a collection of wonderfully pleasant songs about how we shouldn’t romanticize our pasts. Sure, good things happened, things worth remembering fondly, but that car you had also broke down a whole lot, you’re still paying off that student loan and the relationship you were in didn’t end so well. There’s good and bad in our lives, is what he’s saying, and you’re never going to be able to build the life you want if all you do is pretend you lived perfectly and no one, including yourself, was ever an asshole. Golden Age is a tremendously enjoyable, human record, and there can never be enough of those.
There are few things I like more than artists taking a new direction, one meant to be more true to who they are and what they want to present, even if it necessarily abandons some of what made critics fawn over them previously. That’s all to say, I really love Ryley Walker’s new album and the path it wanders down. No, it’s not the jazzy folk that made last years Primrose Green such a critical darling, but that’s what makes it exciting. I don’t want the same album over and over from the artist, I want them to try new things and stretch their sound and maybe, just maybe, show off their skill in a different way. Golden Sings That Have Been Sung is more straightforward and more approachable than Primrose Green, and per Walker, it’s a truer version of what he wants to be known as as an artist, its shuffling songs tying together that throwback sound from before with a more modernized take on the folk thing, the songs having both the space to breath but also the wherewithal to get to their point before it’s too late. So, just to summarize: we shouldn’t bitch and moan when artists we like take new directions, and new things aren’t automatically bad because they don’t meet your expectations for what they should be. And to conclude: this record is great.
I won’t sugarcoat it: this new Lisa Hannigan album is dark, kids. At Swim feels like the most focused, sharply pointed album Hannigan has made to date, 11 songs that unfold slowly and effectively, painting a haunting, beautiful picture out of the loss, loneliness and uncertainty that’s been inhabiting her life. It’s a beautiful darkness, Hannigan’s lovely, haunting voice and production from the National’s Aaron Dessner ensures that, but it’s plumbing the depths of hurt, and you should probably know that before you hit play (and you should certainly hit play).
This month in breaking the (non-existent, really) rules: we are gonna talk about a song, not an album, because who knows at this point when the album it may or may not come from is going to come to fruition. This new Tallest Man On Earth tune is the best thing he’s done in so long, maybe ever, seamlessly combining the finger picked urgency that permeated Kristian Matsson’s first releases and the rough polish that’s defined his last few. ‘Rivers’ is Tallest Man on Earth reaching his/their/whatever potential, and that’s worth being excited about and hopeful that there’s a more grandiose, album-length realization coming.
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