Day of the Dead
This is the second all-star indie charity album produced by Aaron and Bryce Dessner of The National. Both have benefited the Red Hot Organisation, which is an HIV/AIDS not-for-profit. The first, Dark Was The Night, appeared in 2009 and featured some great tracks, including ‘Brackett, WI’ by Bon Iver and a lovely version of ‘Lua’ by Conor Oberst and Gillian Welch. This time the format is different. Clocking in at approximately three-and-a-half weeks long (only a slight exaggeration), Day of the Dead is a 59-track collection of Grateful Dead covers. The performers comprise a who’s who of contemporary indie royalty. There’s Courtney Barnett, Unknown Mortal Orchestra, Kurt Vile, Local Natives, and many, many more. With such a stellar cast of characters, it’s difficult to know how to parse the contributions, not least because the running order varies as a function of whether you’re listening to it as a download or CD. There’s some slightly wearying experimental work on the second half of CD 4, but there are also some real revelations, ‘Black Muddy River’ by Bruce Hornsby and DeYarmond Edison being one, and, hard though it is to believe, ‘Friend of the Devil’ by Mumford and Sons. What’s really nice, though, is that the vast majority of the tracks sound just like you’d want them to. Whether it’s The War on Drugs, Phosphorescent, Bill Callahan, or The National themselves, they inhabit their respective covers really well. Some people will bemoan a certain lack of noodling, choogling, and general guitar boogying. And others will be dismissive of the fact that there isn’t more experimental excess, though there’s always The Flaming Lips. But by generally paring back the potential for unbridled extravagance, the Dessner brothers and Josh Kaufman have produced a much more cohesive album than might be expected. So, support Day of the Dead. It not only helps a worthy cause, it’s also, whisper it, a really good listen.
Kramies and Alma Forrer – Into The Sparks
A new release by Kramies is always something to be cherished. But, this time, our favourite self-styled dream-pop artiste has maybe met his match. After his recent dalliance in Angers and the subsequent release of the sublime forêts antiques EP, now he’s partnered with Alma Forrer, a young French singer-songwriter influenced by Barbara, Jacques Brel, and Michel Polnareff among others. It’s hard to imagine anyone more baba cool than Kramies, but Alma Forrer might just have managed it. There are two versions of ‘Into The Sparks’ to download. So, don’t write off the acoustic version, which is simply sublime. Ceci n’est pas une pipe. Ceci devrait être une tube. Formidable Kramies. Allez Kramies et Alma Forrer.
Adeline Hotel – It’s Alright, Just The Same
There’s a wonderfully raggedy quality to the new release by Adeline Hotel. At times it’s like listening to a Nick Drake album. All quiet and perfect. But then things take off, morphing into lovely loose guitar jams that transcend what went before. ‘Oh Well’ and particularly ‘Wonder Why’ being great examples. It’s all a little reminiscent of early Matthew Houck. And that’s high praise indeed. Adeline Hotel are the brainchild of Dan Knishkowy and this is their sophomore release. It marks a big step forwards. There’s a fuller sound and a sense of an ambition realised. With some lovely pedal and lap steel, piano, delicate backing vocals, and even a touch of mellotron, the palette seems to have gotten bigger and better. There’s no fear of slowing things down, and the album ends in a reflective mood with ‘Reciprocal Ages’. But it’s perhaps ‘Near You’ with its Harvest-era country rock sound that grabs most of the attention. It’s Alright, Just The Same is a fine record. It’s only the title that misleads. This is an album that’s much more than alright, and things are not just the same for Adeline Hotel.
JoJo Worthington – Two Lines
The term ‘experimental folk’ is usually enough to send any seasoned music observer running for cover, but on her new album JoJo Worthington, who openly labels herself an ‘experimental folk artist’, may have done enough to keep all but the most cynical critics firmly in their listening chairs. Hailing from Canada, this is her second album and it’s a thing of rare beauty. The centrepiece is the wonderfully entitled ‘Mid Youth Crisis’. Picture Sufjan Stevens playing a ukulele, singing like Kate Bush, and looping à la Andrew Bird. It’s both enchanting and transporting. But then Two Lines is full of such wonder. The title track itself is a marvel. And there are two lovely interludes, ‘Inveterate’ and ‘Sojourner’, both of which create a welcome space before the beginning of the next audacious instalment. It’s clear that JoJo Worthington is the most talented student in the new class. Crucially, though, Two Lines is no self-conscious exercise in musical polymathery. There’s a confidence, but no maggot ostentation. So, forget experimental folk. Instead, think rhythm and loops. And enjoy.
Dan Michaelson and the Coastguards – Memory
The mere thought of a new album by Dan Michaelson and the Coastguards is almost enough to turn the mood slightly melancholy. And their new release doesn’t disappoint in that regard. “The cold in your eyes knocks the wind out of me”. Yet, as with its two predecessors, this is no hapless misery fest. Memory is the final part of a trilogy, following Blindspot in 2013 and Distance in 2014. The previous albums felt like direct testimonies of love gone awry. They were wondrous, albeit difficult listening. Memory is no less challenging in that regard. “I was the road you walked and I was the coat you wore”. Now, though, there’s a particular retrospection. For sure, it doesn’t make things any simpler. “So come on now history, you promised me everything”. But it does permit a certain reimagining. “Morning lends the colours that make you feel young again”. And perhaps even a reluctant acceptance. “We’ll see what we can find”. The release of a new album by Dan Michaelson and the Coastguards is always worth putting the bunting out for. And their latest offering doesn’t disappoint in that respect. The bass-baritone vocals are at their most croaky; the Coastguards at their most melodic; and the tunes as good as anything that’s gone before. Memory marks a form of ending for Dan Michaelson and the Coastguards. And yet every ending also marks a beginning. So here’s to the future. And the prospect of yet more wonderfully melancholy moods.