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Electric Ghosts: May's Best Folk Music Reviewed

On May 26, 2016

by Adam Sharp


A few honest words: I love the records below, but the best thing I heard this last month was from Chance the Rapper, and it wasn’t even close (Andrew went over why that’s the case). I don’t know shit about hip-hop or rap, so let’s talk about sad songs and ‘folk’ music instead, cause I actually listen to that stuff regularly. Below are three albums, an EP and a reissue that stood out most to me in May, another great month in a year that’s shaping up to be ‘quite strong’ to ‘very strong’ music-wise.  


Mutual Benefit- Skip A Sinking Stone
Skip A Sinking Stone is the prettiest, dreamiest record you’ll hear all year. Just stating facts. A record that tackles the dueling beasts of grinding tour life and life in New York City isn’t supposed to sound this gorgeous, but here we are. Full of ruminations about love and hope and disappointment and the temporary nature of those feelings both on the road and at home, Jordan Lee’s latest is essentially a 12-song dreamscape, one made for you to lose yourself in and float away with for 39 or so minutes at a time. What makes it all work so effectively is that these stories are universally specific, Lee throwing down a stack of sepia-toned snapshots of life and daring you to mix in your own as the melodies and words drift and swirl and overwhelm. Give in. Do that. Take that trip down memory lane.

Fruit Bats- Absolute Loser
For a record that dives into what it feels like to lose everything- those you care about, the life you had, love, etc.- Absolute Loser does a great job of being immensely enjoyable, sounding immediately recognizable in a way that makes you think you’ve both heard and loved it before. It’s as if Eric D. Johnson decided to get the band back together (they disbanded in 2013) and make a record that contains everything that made Fruit Bats so damn good to begin with- the well-crafted songs, Eric Johnson’s distinct, striking voice, and those haunting, perfect harmonies and melodies- producing a cohesive album that sounds so fresh and timeless all at once. The world is better with Fruit Bats back in it. 

Star Parks- Don’t Dwell
All that stuff I said about that Fruit Bats record being something you’ve heard and loved before? It applies to the debut Star Parks album, Don’t Dwell, too. The sunshiny harmonies, breezy rhythms, bouncy horns, parlor pianos and bright orchestration pretty well hide the fact that this is a sad ass record about relationship regrets and disappointments that was created after the break-up of Andy Bianculli’s previous band. Basically it’s a perfect record to soundtrack both those hot, lazy afternoons sipping your drink of choice after getting that sunburn you tried like hell to avoid and for that inevitable summer sadness/comedown that consumes you once summer ends (and along with it that summer romance you were working on).   

The Staves- Sleeping In A Car
Something major happened between The Staves debut record (2012’s Dead & Born & Grown) and their sophomore one (2015’s If I Was). Sure, they met Justin Vernon, who produced If I Was and tends to make everything better, but something more profound happened, because they pretty seamlessly and staggeringly went from ‘Oh, that’s good and those are pretty harmonies’ to ‘HOLY SHIT WHAT IS THAT.’ Maybe it’s as simple as ‘they grew up and figured out who and what The Staves actually are,’ or maybe the change has a better story with some wild twists and turns my brain can’t even fathom currently. Either way, Sleeping In A Car, a collection of songs written during their quick rise and produced by Vernon, proves that the magic they harnessed on their second record wasn’t fleeting, that this is who they are, all devastatingly beautiful harmonies and songs that pummel you in waves, and they are better at it than anyone else right now.


Ryan Adams- Heartbreaker Deluxe Reissue
There aren’t a lot of things better than when an artist gives you the deluxe reissue you’ve been hoping for, the one that provides a bit of context and gives you a glimpse of where the songs that meant a lot to you came from and what they were before they became everything to you and so many others. That’s just what Ryan Adams did with the deluxe reissue of Heartbreaker, a collection stuffed with stripped-down demos, re-arranged outtakes, b-sides and conversations that give you an idea of what he was thinking as an artist at the start of one of the most prolific and special periods any songwriter has gone through over the last few decades. I mean, the man was in such a zone, and Heartbreaker was so good, that he wrote ‘Petal In The Rainstorm,’ which is basically a perfect song, and not only left it off the album, but didn’t bother to release it for 15+ years. That’s absolutely ridiculous. (Yes, I know an acoustic version was included on flexi-disc with the Ashes & Fire deluxe edition. No, that doesn’t really count.) It’s nice when artists open up the vaults and allow a peek behind the curtains, and it’s something I hope we see more frequently for albums that matter.   

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