Electric Ghosts: The Best Folk Music in July, Reviewed

On July 27, 2016

by Adam Sharp


It’s July, which means it’s too hot for just about anything and everything. Except for the music below, which is good and will comfort you during this endless summer. Maybe we’ll make it, maybe we won’t- at least we’ll have a good soundtrack.


Love & HateMichael Kiwanuka
Tyler and Andrew covered this on the VMP podcast, but this new Michael Kiwanuka album is an altogether engrossing thing. Artists in 2016 don’t roll out a first track (and final single before an album’s release) that’s 10 minutes long with a 5 minute intro, one that morphs from a swirl of strings, wah-wah’d guitar lines and what sounds like 1000 folks ‘ohh’-ing and ‘ahh’-ing into a pretty rocking, confessional ballad seamlessly, somehow making 10 minutes feel closer to 3 and a half. Love & Hate, is a pronounced step forward in every single way from Kiwanuka’s debut album, Home Again, finding Michael and his band both stretching out their sound and making a more coherent statement overall (side note: the guitar work on this album is unimpeachable), tackling issues like race, love and, well, hate with lazar-sharp focus and technical precision. Kiwanuka has managed to synthesize all those influences folks have ascribed to his sound- Bill Withers, Terry Callier, Otis Redding and Bobby Womack, to call out a few- and put out a record that sounds nostalgic, fresh, unhurried and vital. This is the sound of a songwriter entering their prime.


The SaltPrairie Empire
The Salt is a record full of slow-burners, tailor-made for those late-nights when you start digging through and over-analyzing the moments in your life that got you where you are right now. It’s sweeping and wearily nostalgic, Brittain Ashford’s distinct, lovely voice floating over Prairie Empire’s lush, sweeping, updated sound. These are sadly sweet songs about broken hearts and missed connections, the kind that sneak up on you and melt together and lead you to listening to the record a few times through before you realize it. We’re entering that brutal part of a seemingly unending summer, and this is the perfect record to soundtrack it.


The King of Whys - Owen
Probably easiest to just get this out of the way first, because it colors everything I feel about Owen: I was, in a younger life, a fan of emo who lived in the Midwest, which means I was, by default/necessity/luck, a fan of American Football, a Chicago band who burned quick and bright in the late 90s/early 00s. That's also the group Mike Kinsella, the man behind Owen, sang lead for. All that is to say that of course I love this new Owen album. It’s not often that someone makes their best, most fully-developed full-length as their 9th record, one that comes after 2+ decades in music, one that, for the first time, delegates out some of the work to others for the first time, but here we are with The King of Whys. The songs manage to fill-out the sound the project has honed for so long, but they do so without ever losing that intimate feel that makes his songwriting so compelling, Kinsella waxing poetic (and, sometimes, with tongue firmly in-cheek) about love, loss and, most compellingly, about the scars left by an alcoholic father. I will never tire of Mike Kinsella’s voice, or the time signature changes that characteristically mark his songs, or the fact that Owen continues to evolve and improve and delight.


Mirage DreamsBreanna Barbara
As seems to happen every month lately, I’m gonna go ahead and stretch the definition of ‘folk’ just a little bit to fit in a record I like, in this case Breanna Barbara’s Mirage Dreams. A little blues, a little country, a little southern rock, a little of this, a little of that and a whole lot of exciting, Mirage Dreams is an absolute ass-kicker of an album, Barbara’s smoky, haunting, powerhouse voice carrying everything from tenderly strummed ballads to slow, crashing rockers to all-out, whiskey-and-sweat-soaked jams. Sometimes you hit play on something without really knowing what to expect and 11 songs proceed to just smack the shit out of you. Welcome to Mirage Dreams, guys and girls.

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