Mount Eerie – Now Only
Now Only is Phil Elverum’s second encomium to his wife, Geneviève, who died of cancer in 2016. Like its predecessor from last year, it’s a record that’s easier and perhaps even wiser to ignore than to put on and listen to for the first time. That’s because you know the simple act of pressing play will inevitably lead to intense and prolonged feelings of morbidity and loss. They’re inescapable and almost unbearable. But then you knew that when you decided to press play. Like A Crow Looked At Me before it, Now Only is a testament to the immediacy of grief and its “feral eruptions of sobbing”. It’s also a checklist of the everyday banality of death, which is no less upsetting. “I went and wrote a check and got a cardboard box, full of your ashes, and a little plastic bag with your necklace, and I drove back home truly alone.” Perhaps more so than last year’s record, though, it’s also an album that hints at the next part of the grieving process. The desire to keep the past as alive as it once was, but the recognition that it’s bound to disappear in its previous form. “I don’t want to live with this feeling any longer than I have to, but also I don’t want you to be gone”. And the realisation that the future will hold only imperfect memories of a life that once was. “I know that you are gone and that I’m carrying some version of you around, some untrustworthy old description in my memories”. Some albums are uplifting in their sadness. They make you feel less alone by making you aware that you’re like many others. Like its 2017 counterpart, though, Now Only is not one of those albums. “No. No one can understand. No. My devastation is unique.” But it’s still an absolutely beautiful album. A crushingly emotional album for sure. But then you knew that when you decided to press play.
Soccer Mommy – Clean
“You’re made from the stars”, sings Soccer Mommy. But she’s not thinking of Ronaldo or even his little brother Ronaldinho. Her mind is on other things. Whether it’s her friend Mary. “She’ll treat you like a fucking toy, She’ll break your heart and steal your joy”. Or just herself. “Baby I lost my faith, I kissed him on the second date”. This is an album of up-close observations on friends and relationships. Soccer Mommy is 20-year old Sophie Allison. With a history of more-or-less approximate home-recordings already under her belt, Clean is a different proposition altogether. For sure, there’s a certain nostalgia for how things were. The warping of the tape spool on ‘Cool’. The slightly uneven vocals in various places. But throughout there’s the confidence of an artist who’s mature beyond her years. “I don’t wanna be your fucking dog, That you drag around, A collar on my neck tied to a pole, Leave me in the freezing cold”. It’s difficult to argue with that. There are hints of early Sharon Van Etten or Angel Olsen about Soccer Mommy. And just sometimes you feel that in a few years the arrangements would be fleshed out even more. But for now, it’s more than fine. Because Soccer Mommy is already more than merely a passive observer. A figure on the sidelines. She’s a real player.
Scenic Route To Alaska – How It Feels
The last time we took the Scenic Route To Alaska was back in October when they were telling us to ‘Slow Down‘. Now, they’re back with a new album. Or nearly anyway. Tough Luck will be out in just a week’s time. Produced by Howard Redekopp of The New Pornographers fame, it promises to be another slice of wide-open Prairie Rock. That’s if the new single, ‘How It Feels’, is anything to go by. Written on the back of a tour, it sounds anything but jaded. With the band soon be heading back out on the road across their native Canada, the US, Germany and the Netherlands, let’s hope that further inspiration awaits. In the meantime, there’s a … wrestling video to enjoy!
Alela Diane – Cusp
The last time we crossed paths with Alela Diane was about five years ago. About Farewell was a bleak, but beautiful album that chronicled in no small detail the decline and fall of a relationship. Then, there was no looking forward, only back. And with a mix of both regret and resentment. Now, though, things are very different. With a new partner and two young children to boot, the focus is straight ahead. “I’d rather be an albatross, flying high, Than in the tail winds, looking back at what I left behind”. And the theme is unashamedly one of family. A new family. “She took shelter in my womb, And I felt her tiny feet, Kick me from the inside”. Creatively, of course, the fear is that domestic tranquility will always crowd out the ever popular tortured artist effect. And, for sure, this is not an album for the angry, the restless, or even the mildly irritated. But it is a very honest album nonetheless. Things come to a head on ‘Never Easy’, which describes how motherhood has led Alela Diane to reevaluate her relationship with her own mother. “I didn’t know how much you loved me, I didn’t know until I had my own little daughter”. It’s a very poignant admission. And it’s a sign that in its own very different way, Cusp is as revealing as its predecessor from five years back. Let’s hope we cross paths again sometime soon.
Summon the Birds – Blood Love
Summon the Birds liken their sound to “Talk Talk picking the locks to Spoon’s basement as The Drones circle”. But let’s declutter. Summon the Birds are a four-piece band from Melbourne, Australia. Blood Love is their second full-length release. They offer up a slightly woozy, somewhat proggy, little bit folky sound. But let’s declutter. Summon the Birds are on the wonderful Hidden Shoal label. They’re not afraid to give a song room to breathe, to let the lyrics tell a story, to create an epic sound. But let’s declutter. Summon the Birds’ new album is out on Friday. It’s worth checking out. Let’s go clutter.
Ten minutes alone in a room with Dream Wife, you’d feel, would be enough to make even Harvey Weinstein agree to submit to a healthy dose of restorative justice. “I am not a body, I am somebody”, they assert defiantly. “I’m going to fuck you up, I’m going to cut you up”, they shout threateningly. If the lyrics on their stunning new album are anything to go by, then Dream Girl aren’t just capturing a certain Zeitgeist. They’re the Geist itself. But this is more than merely a manifesto for a #MeToo moment. Dream Wife may have the spirit of the Au Pairs and the energy of Sleater-Kinney, but there’s a playfulness and no small amount of irony about them too. “I spy with my little eye, Bad bitches”. Par for the course for a group that came together in Art School. But what’s most striking of all are the songs themselves. The riffs. The melodies. This is track after track of perfect power pop. Dream Wife are a powerful statement and they make a powerful sound. More than that, though, they’ve made a fantastic album to listen to. To dance to. To play air guitar to. If that’s not too much of a Harvey Weinstein thing, that is.
First Aid Kit – Ruins
First Aid Kit are the sort of band that Donald Trump would like to see migrating to the US. The Söderberg sisters are from Sweden, which is quite close to Norway. They already sing in an American accent and they deliver the sort of advert-friendly music that wouldn’t be out of place during Fox & Friends. In fact, when ‘My Silver Lining’ comes on the airwaves, it’s difficult to think of anything but a Renault Kadjar. Or is it a Volvo XC60? Whatever. Anyway, First Aid Kit’s previous album Stay Gold was produced by the former boy genius and now just genius, Conor Oberst. This time they’re produced by Tucker Martine. Or Mr Laura Veirs as he’s known on this site. He’s one of the best producers in the business. As you would expect, the sound is beautifully crisp, but the style is slightly more genteel. You’d think that a song called ‘My Wild Sweet Love’ would jump out of the speakers and say Take Me Now! Instead, it sort of peers around the corner slightly coyly and hopes that you’ll notice. But this is still the first-best album of 2018 and it’s sure to remain in the memory ’til the year’s end. There are some wonderful moments. The tempo change at 3:32 of ‘Rebel Heart’, the point when Johanna takes over the vocals from Klara on ‘Fireworks’, the joyful ending of ‘Hem Of Her Dress’. First Aid Kit are the sort of band that Donald Trump would like if he had any sense. He doesn’t. Which allows the rest of us to sit back and enjoy the sumptuous music of the Söderberg sisters.