The review got lost in the vacation period, but this is one of my favourite albums of the year so far.

Band of Horses – Why Are You OK

Why Are You OK

When the title of your new album quotes an e-mail sent by your 3-year old son, it’s a sure sign that a certain part of your life has changed, but what about the music? Well, Ben Bridwell’s life has certainly been transformed. The father of four built a house with a studio and wrote the songs for Why Are You OK at home during the night, taking his kids to school in the morning. The album reflects this 30-something lifestyle. ‘In A Drawer’ begins with a very comfortable scene. “Sitting on a bearskin rug, Listening to grandpa talk, The whistle of an old bird call, A photo of the long lost dog”. ‘Casual Party’ ups the domestic tranquility, “Kids and the dog, a freshly-mowed lawn, Retirement plans for a mountain home”. This sure ain’t no ‘Weed Party’. It could all be a little cloying, but it isn’t. Bridwell makes it clear that the casual party is not for him, “I’m gonna leave, Best get out of the way”. And there’s a recurring introspection that can be slightly unsettling at times. “The heart of a man, The secrets they bury within”, we’re told on ‘Barrel House’. And Are you truly in love, absolutely in love?”, he asks of someone in ‘Hag’. “Did mentioning me make your skin start to crawl?” There may be a new-found domestic setting to this album, but we’re certainly not at home with The Waltons. That’s reassuring. The equivalent is true for the music. ‘Solemn Oath’ has the verve of songs such as ‘Laredo’, but with Jason Lytle on production duties there’s no unthinking quiet/loud formula here. In fact, there’s a welcome calmness to much of the collection, culminating in the lovely ‘Even Still’. Ben Bridwell’s life may well have changed and Band of Horses may have moved on, but Why Are You OK is still a statement of musical intent. A mature statement to be sure. And a very welcome one at that.

Lisa Hannigan – At Swim


When you knit the cover of your first album, anything thereafter can only be less twee. So it is with Lisa Hannigan. This is her third solo release and it’s a much more low-key, downbeat, maudlin affair than either of its predecessors. A central theme is one of loss. Of friends, for sure. ‘Prayer For The Dying’ sets a sombre but beautiful tone in that regard. Of sleep. ‘Lo’ is an ode to insomnia. But, perhaps most of all, of a certain way of viewing the world. “We advance in tender increments, Between the past and future tense”. Central to the album is Aaron Dessner of The National. He’s at least partly responsible for its very realisation, helping Hannigan break through a bad case of writer’s block. But it’s as producer that he once again shines, moving her away from the irritatingly simplistic song structure of some of her previous work. Here, tracks like ‘Ora’ and ‘We, The Drowned’ are given the space in which to express themselves. And the sound is very different too. No more so than on the closer, ‘Barton’, with its gorgeous mix of ambient sounds and skittish percussion. This is a much more rounded and rewarding creation than both Sea Sew and Passenger. Some of the lines are truly wondrous. “Tender is a kiss, while the dancers dip and twist”. And the voice never loses its wispy appeal. It’s a difficult album to love, but certainly one to admire and, more importantly, to listen to. Repeatedly.

Still on vacation, but in the space between now and a proper post, here’s a link to one of my favourite songs of the year so far. It’s ‘Vincent’ by Car Seat Headrest from the excellent ‘Teens of Denial’ album. The original is 7.45. The official Youtube version condenses it to 4.25. It gives you a nice taster, but check out the album version.