Sufjan Stevens – Carrie & Lowell (Live)
Sufjan Stevens has done us all a favour. When the Trumpian apocalypse comes, when we’re sitting in our homemade shelter, when we’ve used up our final Nespresso capsule, and when the bars on our iPhone disappear for the very last time, then we can still put on Carrie & Lowell and realise that someone, somewhere is worse off than we are. For Carrie & Lowell is the ultimate feel-bad album. There’s not a moment of even faintly uplifting sentiment, never mind outright comic relief. Question: “What did you learn from Tillermook burn, or the Fourth of July? Answer: “We’re all gonna die”. Turning an album like Carrie & Lowell into a live show seems like one of those things artists do when they’re trying to escape from a major-label contract because of artistic differences. Yet, this is Sufjan Stevens. He runs the record label. More importantly, he also knows how to put on a live show. That’s not to say he turns the most maudlin album of 2015 into an all-singing, all-dancing musical extravaganza, but he does know how to play with tempo, pitch, and harmony to bring out the best of any material. Live, the original songs lose none of their intimacy. The creak of what seems to be the piano seat can be heard. But they also gain in stature. The orchestration is fuller. The song order is also slightly rearranged to create a little more drama. And a couple of non-album songs are added. Carrie & Lowell was already one of the great albums of the 2010s. This version complements it perfectly. It’s no fun fair, to be sure. But it is human life. Question: “What did you learn from Tillermook burn, or the Fourth of July? Answer: “We’re all gonna die”.
Jeff Caudill – Reset The Sun
Happy Record Store day. This week’s stand-out release is Jeff Caudill’s new 6-track EP/mini-album, Reset The Sun. It’s an alt-country road record about someone who has made “some questionable life decisions and is struggling with forgiveness and starting over“. Musically, it’s a ways away from Jeff Caudill’s previous work with Gameface. Here, we’re deep in the heart of Son Volt territory. And if anyone was disappointed with Jay Farrar’s recent blues-based album, then Reset The Sun can fill the gap very nicely. It’s country, but not Bro-Country. It’s rock, but not Dad-Rock. The song craft is exceptional. The break in the middle of ‘Tears In My Eyes’ is a particular favourite. And the playing is top notch, with the keyboards making a real difference on all the songs. So, if you looking for some slightly down-at-heart songs with a few upbeat hooks, then Jeff Caudill’s new release is for you. It’s available on vinyl and CD from all good record stores. And there couldn’t be a better day to try to track down a copy at one. Essential.
Fionn Regan – The Meetings of the Waters
There’s a rumour that Fionn Regan was thinking of giving up music for visual art. And five years on from his previous release, things are undoubtedly different this time around. There’s been a relocation eastwards. Those who follow him on Instagram will have already noticed plenty of Japanese references. Here, the cover art seems to reflect such a mood. He’s also set up his own record label, Tsuneni Ai, which means ‘Always Love’ in Japanese. Indeed, the new album finishes with a 12-minute ambient track of the same name. Taking up nearly a third of the record as a whole, it puts us firmly in Jim O’Rourke territory, another Japanese exile. This track is a radical departure for an artist who previously looked towards mid-60s Dylan or early-70s Nick Drake for his influences. Yet, whether it’s a bold new move from a restlessly creative artist or a musical distraction from someone whose head perhaps isn’t in the game any more is a matter of discussion. Because even after a five-year absence, The Meetings of the Waters seems more like a stop-gap offering than a mature piece of musical reflection. The title track would be at home on any of his previous albums. A couple of other tracks also work quite well. And there are some reassuringly Reganesque chord changes on ‘Euphoria’. But it’s all a far cry from The Shadow Of An Empire or 100 Acres Of Sycamore, his two classic albums from the early part of the decade. Rather than charting a new course, Fionn Regan seems to have reached a crossroads with his new record. He has to figure out what sort of sound he wants to make, indeed he has to decide what sort of art he wants to create. Let’s hope he makes the right choice.
Leeroy Stagger – Love Versus
If the mere thought of listening to Father John Misty’s Pure Comedy makes you weary, then there’s a fine alternative out this week. Leeroy Stagger’s new release has hit the shops. The lead track was previewed here previously. The album doesn’t disappoint. In contrast to the industrial levels of solipsistic irony from the artist formerly known as J. Tilman, Love Versus is a more direct, a more honest offering. There’s an homage to Joe Strummer and Joey Ramone, a raucous singalong in ‘I Want It All’, and a bunch of tracks that deal with relationships, both the good, the bad, and the everyday. Perhaps the stand-out song, though, is the murder ballad, ‘Run Rabbit Run’. It features a clever break in the middle that changes both the sound of the music and the perspective of the story-teller. So, if it’s a case of Love Versus versus Pure Comedy, then there’s only one winner. And that’s no joke.
Holy Holy – Paint
Fan of early 1980s Rush, but don’t like Ayn Rand? Then Holy Holy are for you. Paint is their sophomore album, building on an already sublime debut, When The Storms Would Come. With hints not only of Rush (‘True Lovers’), but also The Police and Foreigner, Paint captures an era when rock ruled supreme. But it’s no fake copy. No paint-by-numbers, if you will. The colours are fresh. The experience is vivid. It’s full of inspired touches. The break out at the end of ‘Willow Tree’. The riff on ‘Darwinism’. The bass on ‘Shadow’. With Paint, Holy Holy have delivered a modern-day masterpiece. And one thing’s for sure, their work will only increase in value.