Every Richard Edwards Album Ranked!!

This one took me awhile, but it’s finally done! Here’s my ranking of every album in the discography of one of my favorite artists of all time!

10. Sling Shot To HeavenMargot and the Nuclear So & So’s (2014)

A longtime favorite of many Margot fans and of Richard himself, I generally find myself far less impressed. To be clear, it is quite an accomplishment. The songwriting is the best it’s been since their debut, the instrumentation is simple and spacey, and the harmonies are air tight. Unfortunately, the follow up, Tell Me More About Evil is comprised of nearly all the same tracks and, for my money, matches all the highlights of Sling Shot while surpassing it in several areas.

That being said, the album has no shortage of bright spots. “Long Legged Blonde Memphis,” channels the group’s blues influences well while “Wedding Song,” is a gorgeously vulnerable and well written. The instrumental on “Los Angeles,” actually adds quite a bit to the track and the overall spacious aesthetic makes the album feel fairly cohesive. I certainly see the appeal of this record, but in terms of the larger catalog, it has very little to offer.

9. BuzzardMargot and the Nuclear So & So’s (2010)

Margot’s first foray into the heavier, garage rock styles which would characterize the latter half of their catalog, Buzzard is an interesting piece of music. Lyrically, Richard’s mix of quirky and thoughtful is as balanced as ever, though much of his writing takes him to a darker place than previous efforts. The big changes come in the instrumentals which are often heavily distorted, though still just as well performed.

The album’s opener, “Birds,” is a favorite among Margot fans for its unique lyrics and manic energy, but I find myself equally impressed by tracks like the gloomy, distorted “Will You Love Me Forever?” There are still moments like “Tiny Vampire Robot,” and “Lunatic, Lunatic, Lunatic,” which call back to the earlier, more intimate sound, and the record seems to struggle with committing to the new style, somewhat to its detriment.

8. Animal!Margot and the Nuclear So & So’s (2008)

This record is very often ignored by casual listeners and that’s a shame considering what the band went through just to put it out. Long story short, Epic Records had chosen a tracklist, which would become Not Animal, for Margot’s second studio release. The band themselves, however, insisted on the tracklist which would become Animal! Arguments ensued and finally a drunk Richard Edwards threatened to leak the album online if the studio didn’t let them release both. And so, we have Animal! And Not Animal.

While, philosophically, I side with the artist on such an issue, the critical side of me is well aware that this is the inferior release. There are bright moments. “Hello, Vagina,” shines much more here thanks to its earlier appearance. Additionally, there are more bizarre cuts like “Mariel’s Brazen Overture,” which are a treat for long time listeners. Ultimately, Not Animal is the superior project, but Animal! Is exactly the kind of deep cut that’s worth a listen for true fans.

7. Rot Gut, DomesticMargot and the Nuclear So & So’s (2012)

From the opening moments, if the title and cover didn’t give it away, it’s clear that this is heaviest entry to Margot’s catalog, and for the most part, that works in its favor. While I much prefer the more folksy sound on earlier projects, I can appreciated the skillful guitar work and explosive nature of Rot Gut. Additionally, Richard’s voice makes the transition to garage rock quite well, with several powerful moments.

There are a few call backs to the earlier sound like the carefree comedy of “A Journalist Falls in Love with Death Row Inmate #16,” but the best moments come in the pure chaos of cuts like “The Devil,” and “Disease Tobacco Free.” “Frank Left,” is a lyrical highlight to be sure, though the album is somewhat lacking in the respect, and the psychedelic, piano driven closer “Christ,” is one of the record’s best tracks. It’s not my favorite, but if you enjoy Margot’s heavier side, Rot Gut is the best it gets.

6. Pity Party!Richard Edwards  (2017)

The second acoustic only album in Richard’s catalog, I struggled with whether to include this album as there’s very little original music and it only received a very limited vinyl release with nothing available over digital platforms. That being said, it’s absolutely fantastic and another fan favorite which earned it a slot on the list.  The tracklist is made up of acoustic, one-take versions of tracks from both LCCS and the then unreleased Verdugo.

The updates on older cuts like “When You’re Gone,” are welcome surprises with Richard’s very different voice acting as something of an unintentional commentary on the many years since their release. The relaxed, unproduced style also adds quite a bit to tracks like “Postcard,” and “Git Paid,” that didn’t quite shine through and get the attention they deserved on their more official releases. Overall, this is a record for the fans without a doubt, but I’m one of those fans and as such, I love it.

5. Lemon Cotton Candy SunsetRichard Edwards (2017)

While a three year hiatus is not all that long in the music world, Richard’s was certainly felt by his fans, particularly because we didn’t know that we’d get any more music. Finally, a long post was made on Instagram explaining the long silence and the struggles he’d been facing which ended with the hope that the forthcoming project would sound like “being lost at sea.” That it does.

Richard runs the gamut of emotions on this LP, from the hope that bleeds from every chord on “Little Dead Eye-d,” to the unfocused anger on “Disappeared Planets.” His catchy melodies are back in spades on tracks like “Rollin’, Rollin’, Rollin’,” and the best track, “Pornographic Teens.” Perhaps most importantly, he differentiates his new sound from that of his previous group’s with tracks like “Sister Wives,” and “Moonwrapped,” which lay the groundwork for the kind of orchestral folk style which would be fleshed out more on LCCS’ sister album. It was a beautiful return for a beloved artist.

4. Tell Me More About EvilMargot and the Nuclear So & So’s (2014)

Often wholly ignored by more casual fans, this is one my absolute favorite Richard Edwards efforts. Created as a final release before Margot disbanded, TMMAE is a collection of roughly recorded acoustic versions of earlier tracks, most of which come from the previous release, Slingshot to Heaven. It was recorded as a soundtrack for an 8mm film shot by Richard himself which is nearly as beautiful as the record itself.

Virtually every track on this album is wonderful, but I could choose a few favorites. The harmonies on “Hello, San Franciso,” are tight and warm, the guitar work on “Flying Saucer Blues,” is melodic and catchy, and the lyrics to tracks like “Lazy,” and “Gettin’ Fat,” are some of Richard’s funniest. The best cut on the record is “Bleary-Eyed Blue,” which may easily be my favorite track of his entire career. The album can seem a bit slowly and dreary to some, but to fans of the group, the intimacy of a record that makes you feel like you’re sitting right there with the band is invaluable.

3. VerdugoRichard Edwards (2018)

The tenth and most recent addition to the discography thus far, Verdugo is the much stronger sequel to Lemon Cotton Candy Sunset. The tight, ten track playlist is perfectly paced with a new and enjoyable surprise waiting around every corner. The orchestral elements which were lightly experimented with on LCCS decorate virtually every second of Verdugo, aided by fantastic production and a uniquely vintage aesthetic.

The quiet simplicity of “Something Wicked,” is starkly gorgeous, while the lush chaos of “Minefield,” is almost overwhelming. His ear for melody is as strong as ever on a cut like “Olive Oyl,” and “Gene,” is one of the best lyrical moments in his career. Possibly the best track is the closer, “Pornographic Teens,” appearing for the third time on a Richard Edwards album, this time in its best form. With nine albums under his belt, Richard went out of his way to craft something completely knew and creative that has me absolutely ecstatic for whatever is coming next.

2. The Dust of RetreatMargot and the Nuclear So & So’s (2006)

Margot’s mid-2000’s debut is quite the start for the indie-rock collective. The record is fantastically paced and presents a unique, developed sound from the start. The lyricism is excellent, the instrumentation is quirky, and the production is surprisingly well done for a debut album. This early period of Margot’s career has a strong folk-rock tilt which limits their potential to some extent, but nevertheless, Dust has some of the group’s best tracks.

The melodies on tracks like “On a Freezing Chicago Street,” and “Talking in Code,” are absolutely fantastic. Lyrically, tracks like “Skeleton Key,” and “Dress Me Like a Clown,” are extremely impressive. The album’s highlight, for me, is “Jen is Bringing the Drugs,” which serves as an early precursor to the intimate, heartfelt works that would come to characterize Margot’s later efforts. The Dust of Retreat is far from perfect, but it stands as a very impressive debut.

1. Not AnimalMargot and the Nuclear So & So’s (2008)

The other half of the aforementioned battle with studio executives, Not Animal is the version of this album that Margot would rather not have put out. As I said before, however, the studio’s list is much superior. The last Margot project to lean heavier on the folk side of folk-rock, Not Animal keeps everything that worked on Dust of Retreat and improves upon it for a finished product that’s simply gorgeous and one of my favorite records of all time.

There’s so much to love here. The anthemic choruses of “German Motor Car,” will have listeners singing along instantly, while the wider pallet and intimate recording of “As Tall As Cliffs,” radiates the fun the band is clearly having working as a collective. “Holy Cow!” Is a sweet but emotional cut and “Children’s Crusade on Acid,” is bold and experimental. Easily the highlight, however, is the band’s biggest hit to date by a mile, “Broadripple is Burning.” Not Animal is gorgeously written and performed and an absolute blast to listen to. A few of their later efforts may be more technically impressive, but for me, this the best iteration of Margot and the best album in Richard’s long career.

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Andrew Bird’s 12th LP is a Listenable Piece of Folk Rock

My Finest Work Yet is a moderately enjoyable album that could’ve benefitted from having a few more cooks in the kitchen.

Andrew Bird is an indie-rock vocalist and multi-instrumentalist from Lake Forest, Illinois. He debuted as a solo artist with 2003’s Weather Systems, after leaving the band Bowl of Fire, with whom he’d spent most of the mid to late 90’s. His early work found some following, particularly with fans of the band, but after signing with Fat Possum Records, he dropped 2007’s Armchair Apochrypha, his first solo effort to chart on the Billboard 200.  He went on top the US Folk charts twice, first with 2012’s Break It Yourself, and again with 2016’s Are You Serious. With a long career which winds through a multitude of styles, labels, and albums, Bird has become a favorite of folk-rock fans thanks to a consistent output and creative style. This week, he’s released his 12th album, ambitiously titled My Finest Work Yet.

Immediately, Bird’s experience as a songwriter is obvious in the many unique chord progressions he uses. Tracks like the opener, “Sisyphus,” and the album’s strongest cut, “Proxy War,” are fairly unpredictable and the inventive progressions allow for a few unique vocal melodies as well. It’s easily the strongest point of Bird’s songwriting on this album.

Vocally, he’s quite strong as well. On “Olympians,” he seamlessly transitions from driving, simple verses to large howling choruses, executing each with quite a bit of power and support. With “Archipelago,” on the other hand, he sells a relatively run-of-the-mill track with a dynamic mix of sweet falsettos a riveting strength. Andrew has never been renowned as a particularly remarkable vocalist, but for the majority of this albums he gives quite strong performances that elevate even the less impressive songs.

Maybe the strongest piece of this puzzle, however, is his skill as an instrumentalist. He is best known as a strong violinist, and he exhibits this many times on the record, including an excellent solo on “Don the Struggle,” which leaves me wishing each track had contained such a solo. He’s also noted, in the album’s credits, for his whistling, which is admittedly fantastic! On “Manifest,” for example, he whistles an excellent melody which adds quite a bit to the track.

On the subject of lyrics, unfortunately, My Finest Work Yet stands on shaky ground. There are wonderful moments like early cut, “Bloodless,” which draws much inspiration from the Spanish Civil War in 1936. On the other hand, there’s a handful of pretentious and overall meaningless lyrics all over the album. “Cracking Codes,” and the closer, “Bellevue Bridge Club,” are the worst offenders on this front, packed full of words which say very little.

Another complaint which has dogged this LP since the release of its first singles is just how far out on his sleeve Andrew wears his influences. “Sisyphus,” though enjoyable, could sneak perfectly into any Father John Misty album, which “Olympians,” pulls heavily from early Springsteen efforts. Additionally, “Archipelago,” and “Proxy War,” bare striking resemblance to the work of the Beatles. It isn’t so egregious as to make these tracks unlistenable, and if Andrew were a younger songwriter, I could easily forgive this, but at this stage in his career, it’s frustrating to hear such lack of originality.

The worst offense, without a doubt, is the production, which Bird did himself. Nearly every one of the 10 songs is muddy, lifeless, and flat. Additionally, he seems to have no care for the different tones needed for each track. “Bloodless,” for example, is billed as some mysterious jazz piece, but the instruments are so brightly mixed that all intrigue is gone. The album’s worst track, “Fallorun,” is a jumbled mess which is made infinitely worse by the way each instrument bleeds into one another. This record would have benefitted from a more expert touch behind the board.

Ultimately, My Finest Work Yet is certainly enjoyable. For fans of the growing folk-rock movement, this is a fine listen to hold you over until the next Father John Misty or Fleet Foxes release, but it could’ve been much more. Andrew’s songwriting and instrumental abilities set this album up with a ton of potential, but poor production, a lack of originality, and a very mixed bag of lyrics hold it back.

My Finest Work Yet is a moderately enjoyable album that could’ve benefitted from having a few more cooks in the kitchen.

5/10

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Todd Snider’s New LP is a Masterclass In Folk Music

With excellent songwriting, simple production, and heartfelt performances, Cash Cabin Sessions, Vol. 3 is one of the best folk albums of this decade, and a treat for fans of Snider or the larger Americana movement as a whole.

Todd Snider is an Americana singer/songwriter from Portland, Oregon.He debuted in 1994 with Songs for the Daily Planet. In total, he’s released 16 albums, not including compilations and special editions, each finding varying levels of success, particularly among Americana fans. Perhaps his best accomplishments are his two live albums, Near Truths and Hotel Rooms and The Storyteller. He’s at his best on these projects as his intimate sound isn’t interrupted by poor production and over-instrumentation. This was a problem, especially in his early years, as the apparatus just didn’t exist to find a producer who could do the Americana and folk sounds justice. Today, however, we’re experiencing a boom in the sub-genre and a multitude of producers committed to the sound. For this, his 16th album, Todd has partnered with the great John Carter Cash for his best studio effort to date, Cash Cabin Sessions, Vol. 3.

Perhaps the most surprising change of pace on this LP is the renewed focus on Todd’s acoustic guitar prowess. Tracks like the album’s highlight, “Like a Force of Nature,” and “Just Like Overnight,” the sparse production and arrangement leave nothing but space for Snider to fill with complicated and melodic folk riffs, which were played on the Martin guitar of the late Johnny Cash. He’s very rarely content with simple chords, and instead picks each note with intention and a strong ear that makes every cut infinitely better.

Much less surprising, however, is Snider’s razor sharp wit and penchant for quick, yet hilarious one-liners. On a song like “Talking Reality Television Blues,” he crafts a long winded critique of modern culture, beginning with the invention of radio and culminating in the election of a reality television star to The White House. “The Blues on Banjo,” on the other hand, feels like a random riff on the insanity of the world, not to mention acting as a comedic turn on the kind of simple, one-take recordings that brought early blues stars like Robert Johnson to fame. “A Timeless Response to Current Events,” closes the album as a hilarious, wordy talk blues number that mocks the formalities of government proceedings. None of these tracks are necessarily sharp-tongued, but they’ll make virtually all listeners laugh, and that’s the goal.

Aside from jokes, there are also a few genuinely impressive lyrical moments on this record. The opener, “Working on a Song,” perfectly captures the life a song inside the mind of a writer, including both the comical frustrations of feeling it so near to being finished and the heartfelt connection a writer feels to his craft. “The Ghost of Johnny Cash,” appears later on the record and it is at once haunting yet beautiful. Todd celebrates the icons of the genre with the tail of Loretta Lynn meeting the ghostly form of the late Johnny Cash for a dance in the rain.

Todd has a trend on this record of writing specific stories about figures in music history. “Cowboy Jack Clement’s Waltz,” tells the story of its namesake, a very important producer and friend of the late Johnny Cash, mainly cobbled together from stories told to him by John Carter Cash. “Watering Flowers in the Rain,” as its preceding explanation says, tells the story of a longtime roady for Elvis Presley and the frustration he felt at never taking the spotlight himself. These are some of the most interesting tracks on the album and they’re aided heavily by the spoken sections that lead into them.

Another strong addition to Snider’s arsenal is a fantastically well-played harmonica. It’s perhaps most notable on a track like “Framed,” but it’s an ever-present element of virtually the entire album. His ear for melody is, of course, the driving force behind the harmonica’s effectiveness, but the sharp and almost abrasive tone which is allowed to remain in the final mix without overly softening the edges.

Todd Snider said that recording this album was a result of a recurring dream in which Johnny Cash himself would wake him up from his resting place on the floor in the center of the Cash Cabin Studio, which is incidentally the site where Cash passed away. When Todd opened his eyes, Cash would point to the engineers booth and say “you’re missing it.” And so, Snider set out to make an album at the studio which would make The Man in Black Proud and I think he succeeded.

With excellent songwriting, simple production, and heartfelt performances, Cash Cabin Sessions, Vol. 3 is one of the best folk albums of this decade, and a treat for fans of Snider or the larger Americana movement as a whole.

9/10

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Sun Kil Moon Returns With Much Stronger LP

I Also Want to Die in New Orleans is neither the most accessible, nor the most daring project thus far in 2019, but it certainly a welcome addition to the Sun Kil Moon catalogue.

Sun Kil Moon is a folk rock artist from San Francisco, California. Originating as a continuation of the defunct indie rock band, Red House Painters and sporting a long list of past members, Sun Kil Moon is now the primary moniker of Mark Kozelek, the group’s original lead singer. He’s amassed quite a discography over the past fifteen years, never reaching meaningful commercial success, but becoming a certified critical darling thanks to multiple excellent reviews. His latest record, This is My Dinner, held a few interesting ideas, but was ultimately bloated and often boring.

The album opens with “Coyote,” and immediately we have a strong improvement from the previous record. The instrumentation is sparse and only loosely conforms to any type of rhythm, and it’s aided by a reedy, humming woodwind that brings the moody undertones to a head. Kozelek’s vocals are also fairly impressive, especially the doubled harmonies on what could vaguely be called a chorus. Lyrically, this isn’t the most impressive cut on the record, but there’s quite a bit of solid comedy and it’s certainly a step up from the at times unbearably boring writing on This is My Dinner.

“A Day in America,” follows, the second longest and easily one of the strongest tracks on the record. While the instrumental and production are relatively simple, the lyrics bring this song to a new level. Using his trademark, stream of consciousness style, Mark rambles descriptively through his experiences on the day he learned of the recent Parkland Massacre in Florida. True to form, he rarely stays on topic, devoting large amounts of time to a petty argument with his band, but this works to his advantage here as he says more by rambling off topic acting as a commentary on the tendency of American’s to brush these events aside. It’s a simply brilliant piece of storytelling.

“L-48,” is the third and shortest track, an yet, in many ways, it’s the least focussed. The lyrics seem to have very little to say, and while they may perk the ears of long time Sun Kil Moon fans, they leave a casual listener like myself a bit bored. The instrumental on the other hand, is quite fascinating. Extremely simplistic in presentation, the track presents a multitude of concise melodies with strong focus. The drumming peaks in and out, and the track often feels just one beat from completely falling apart, teetering on the edge of incoherence, and yet consistently intriguing. It doesn’t make up for the weaker lyrics, but it’s an enjoyable piece nonetheless.

“Cows,” on the other hand, returns the record to a fuller sound, largely to its detriment. The melody is much less clear on this track and the drumming is somewhat boring. Lyrically, however, “Cows,” proves impressively capable of holding a listeners attention for the substantial runtime. Using cows as an anchor point for both his rural youth and his philosophical readings, Mark gives us an interesting peak into his psyche and even smuggles in a few profound ideas.

“I’m Not Laughing at You,” kicks off the hefty second half of the LP. It benefits, musically, from the addition of a strong horn section and some excellently spacey production. This is also one of the more interesting storylines as Mark uses a tale of misunderstandings and embarrassing moments while on travels in foreign countries to examine America’s status among the rest of the world, mocking our excess and ignorance, while lauding the many great contributions the US has made, particularly in the realm of songwriting.

“Couch Potato,” is yet another strong entry and maybe the most fun cut on the tracklist. The looping guitar and energetic rock beat is reminiscent of a classic 1970’s pop-rock, but lyrically, it’s quite biting. In it, Sun Kil Moon lambasts the left leaning majority in the US for their silence and lack of concern for immigrants under previous presidents. He goes on to predict a reelection of Donald Trump, should the majority of voters continue to accept the status quo as it is.

“Bay of Kotor,” closes the album with a daunting 20 minutes all to itself, and it uses its time well. Easily the strongest track on the album, Sun Kil Moon tells a sprawling story of a rather tame but interesting night in San Francisco. He touches on his love for animals, his inability to connect with women who hit on him, and a series of unique interactions with a hotel waitress from the area. 

All said, this is a large step up for Sun Kil Moon. The instrumentation has quite a bit of character and the lyrics, though at times meandering, are often fascinating and creative.

I Also Want to Die in New Orleans is neither the most accessible, nor the most daring project thus far in 2019, but it certainly a welcome addition to the Sun Kil Moon catalogue.

6/10

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Hozier Is Back With a Perfect Sophomore Album

Wasteland, Baby! Is an infectious passion project from one of the brightest minds in music today which slowly sucks you in further and further in with each listen.

Hozier is an indie/blues rock artist from Bray, Ireland. He debuted in 2013 with the Take Me to Church EP, the title track of which is still his most successful song to date, certified eight times platinum in the US alone. After the massive success, he went on to drop the From Eden EP, which was equally well received and left expectations sky high for an upcoming LP. His 2014 self-titled album debut certainly didn’t disappoint, featuring represses of much of the previous two releases while adding a few fantastic new cuts. The album went double platinum in the US and six times platinum in his home country of Ireland, spawning a large tour and and netting multiple awards. Fans were left clamoring for more but were largely met with silence until the release of the Nina Cried Power EP in late 2018. Now, just a few months later, we finally have a sophomore effort from the indie rock troubadour and it absolutely does not disappoint.

Wasteland, Baby! May be a bit jarring to fans of the debut, as was the preceding EP, as Hozier has returned with a wide array of new styles and effects, and a renewed focus on the instrumental side of his music which just didn’t exist before. This is made obvious in the baselines of the very opening track, “Nina Cried Power,” in addition to “No Plan,” a few cuts later. The bass guitar works extremely hard across this record, constantly moving with purpose and played with skill.

This is also extremely noticeable in the massive instrumental pallet of this album. The violins on “As It Was” lend a gravitas to an already fantastic, folk-inspired song, while the organ  work on “Be,” and across the majority of the latter half of the record is a wonderful touch. While the first album seemed a bit more consistent in terms of tone, I much prefer the expansive pallet and exciting nature of Wasteland, Baby!

Without a doubt, however, the most noticeable change is a massive focus on percussion on nearly every track. While a song like “Movement,” or “Sunlight,” is perhaps a bit more noticeable, it’s clear that Hozier put serious time and effort into each piece of the percussion on this album and it absolutely pays off. Never once do we hear a nondescript rock beat but in stead a minimalistic but effective collections of dynamic sounds keeping the rhythm.

All this being said, the best qualities of the album are still, by far, the elements we’ve come to expect and appreciate from Hozier’s work. The guitar work is wonderful. From the rolling, picked acoustic of “To Noise Making,” to the earworm riffs of tracks like “Talk,” and “Dinner & Diatribes.” His guitar is at the center of nearly every track and that’s never a bad thing.

The lyrics on this album are nothing short of poetry. “Almost,” is a wonderfully fun tribute to love and music using several lyrics from timeless the jazz standards of acts like Sinatra and Jelly Roll Morton. “Shrike,” on the other hand is breathtaking ode to a love lost using nature as a perfect metaphor. It’s also the best track on the album and one of the best tracks I’ve heard in a very long time. The closer and title track uses powerful apocalyptic imagery to describe the act of falling in love in yet another stroke of brilliance. Genuinely every track on this album stems from a wonderful lyrical idea and executed nearly perfectly.

The absolute, undeniable highlight on this album, however, comes in Hozier’s vocals. Whether it’s the Motown and soul inspired sound of a track like “Nobody,” or the booming, blues rock of “Would That I,” or any of the other 12 cuts on this album, Hozier’s voice is a constant presence. It’s soft and contemplative when it needs to be, and smoothly powerful at the perfect moments, and it is, overall, an absolute Iron Man effort from an incredible talent.

As this album wraps up, I’m struck by what a fantastic experience it was. The pacing is near perfect, never leaving me bored over a nearly hour long runtime, every song feels essential and unique, and every risk taken on the album pays off in full. Even the singles I didn’t love in the lead up have found a comfortable home on this record and have become some of my favorite cuts. The massive accomplishment that is this LP becomes even more incredible when you realize that each and every track is written, largely performed, and produced by Hozier himself.

Wasteland, Baby! Is an infectious passion project from one of the brightest minds in music today which slowly sucks you in further and further in with each listen. It’s an instant classic and it’s the second album in Brendon’s Beats history to receive a perfect score.

10/10

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Henry Jamison’s Sophomore Effort is Lyrically Strong but Musically Weak

Gloria Duplex is extremely well written, but a lack of care on the instrumental and production side leaves it feeling like just a catchy poetry collection and robs it of enormous potential.

Henry Jamison is a folk singer songwriter from Vermont. Jamison comes from a very long line of storytellers, his father a successful classical composer and his mother an English Professor. Even further back, his lineage can be traced to people like George Fredrick Root, the successful Civil War Era songwriter. It’s a family tree of which Henry is rightfully proud, and he considers himself yet another in this long line of story tellers. He debuted with his breakout EP, The Rains in 2016, but really hit his stride with 2017’s The Wilds.

His blend of acoustic instrumentation and vivid lyricism is not uncommon in the folk world, though Jamison is especially good at it. The Wilds touches on several interesting topics and his brand of visual lyrics brings these ideas to life with a pleasing sound. Though his songwriting is excellent, his melodies and instrumentation tends to suffer from a lack of attention which is mostly given to the lyrics. Because of this, his earlier work strikes something of a niche market of lyrically focused folk fans and lacks some of the wide-ranging appeal that can be found in the best of the genre. With Gloria Duplex, however, he aims to rectify this while continuing to build on what made his earlier work great. For the most part, he succeeds.

First and foremost, Henry’s lyricism is still the key focus for his music, and for good reason. Tracks like “Boys,” and “Ether Garden,” tell fantastic stories with clever turns of phrase and some beautiful, descriptive poetry. This is, by far, the highlight of what the album does and for lyrically focussed folk fans, this an excellent project.

His vocals, while not overly impressive, get the job done just fine for a folk record. The closer, “Darkly,” actually features a very emotive performance and some strong harmonies and “Reading Days,” is decorated with a few thoughtful melodies. The majority of his vocals are just well done enough so as not to be distracting, but he does show a few hints of putting more effort into these leads.

Additionally, there are moments of strong production here and there. The vocal effects on the “Beauty Sleep,” interview, for example, is exciting and creative and the atmospheric decorations of “True North,” add a lot to an otherwise uneventful track

There’s even the stray moment of instrumental brilliance. The warm violins on the album’s best track, “Florence Nightingale,” the playful guitar of “The Magic Lantern,” or the unique chord progression of “Stars,” are proof that Jamison has the ability to arrange some excellent instrumentation when he puts in the effort. Unfortunately, it’s also in here where I find the majority of my complaints.

A large portion of this album is drug down by cheesy and uninventive instrumentals. The very cliched guitars of the opener, “Gloria,” set the record off on a bad note that it struggles to recover from until a strong run in the middle. In the final third, however, we’re thrown into the weakest track on the album, “American Babes,” which sounds like a stock folk track completely buries its admittedly strong lyrics. This leads us straight onto “In March,” which, while a bit more daring, never seems to bring any of the ideas it contains to any kind of satisfying fruition. Aside from a few notable exceptions, nearly all of this album suffers from this same weak link and isn’t helped by fairly run-of-the-mill mixing.

All in all, this is a solid sophomore effort. Henry’s poetic writing style will be a hit with a lot of folk fans, as it should be. He clearly puts a lot of time and effort into his lyricism. One can only wish, however, that he put the same time and care into the other facets of his music, namely the instrumentation and production.

  Gloria Duplex is extremely well written, but a lack of care on the instrumental and production side leaves it feeling like just a catchy poetry collection and robs it of enormous potential.

5/10

James Blake Drops Fascinating Fourth LP

Assume Form is a fantastic addition to both James Blake’s ever improving catalog and the dialogue of modern music as a whole.

James Blake is a singer/songwriter and producer from London. He found underground success with a series of EPs released in 2010 on R&S Records and turned the buzz into a silver certification for his debut, self-titled LP in 2011. He went on to drop Overgrown in 2013 and The Colour in Anything in 2016, both of which peaked in the 30’s on the US charts and topped the dance music charts. His biggest mainstream success came on a pair of features on the Black Panther soundtrack in 2017.

Despite the lack of a massive hit, Blake is a darling of the music critic world, and for good reason. He’s often hailed for his ability to blend a multitude of genres, which he does with ease and remarkable skill. His understanding of rap music is especially impressive as he seems to understand the genre better than many modern rappers, blending it perfectly with jazz, country, rock, and his folksy roots. Now four albums in, James Blake is crafting one of the most unique and intriguing catalogs in modern music, and that continues with Assume Form.

From the start, the album is very obviously headed in a unique, minimal direction. Tracks like the opener and title track or “Can’t Believe the Way We Flow,” utilize simplistic instrumentals, relying heavily on looping sound bites. They also play with timing and tempo in an interesting way that leaves a listener feeling a bit off balance. Luckily, though, our ears gravitate so quickly to Blake’s excellent vocals that he’s able to see us through some of the more experimental changes.

Aside from James’ talented performances, there’s also quite a features list here as well. Travis Scott sounds better than ever on “Mile High,” as does ROSALIA on “Barefoot in The Park.” In both instances, featuring artists get to take center stage for an extended period of time as apposed to a single, unrelated verse as is generally the case. The only feature with a criminally short grip on the spotlight gives perhaps the best performance of the list as Andre 3000 of Outkast drops a fantastically complex verse on “Where’s the Catch,” a track that actually feels a bit meandering aside from his appearance.

Additionally, producer Metro Boomin helps out on a couple tracks. The first of these is the aforementioned “Mile High,” which is relatively simple, but the second is “Tell Them,” which features one of the best beats I’ve heard in quite a while. From the excellent loop of Moses Sumney’s haunting voice to the soft, watery synths, the track is just beautifully crafted, and when the violins make an appearance in the final third, it serves as nothing more than a cherry on top.

The instrumental pallet is nothing to dismiss either, as tracks like “Into the Red,” and “Are You in Love,” use everything from violins to baroque pianos to woodwinds and synths that seem ripped directly from a 1980’s Nintendo game. Even more importantly, though, is the way these organic, folk-inspired instruments are given new life being weaved in and out of what is ostensibly trap production. The heavy bass and snapping hi-hats contrast perfectly against the physical instrumentation in an extremely rare way.

He also plays with a dreamier, more smooth style of production on tracks like “I’ll Come Too,” which seems built from the ground up on a very jazz-inspired foundation, and “Don’t Miss It,” which is driven by a fascinating speed effect on Blake’s lead vocal and decorated by an operatic backing voice that is simply chilling. While this isn’t a style he pursues all that often on the record, he never the less delivers quite impressively when it’s used.

All this is not to mention Blake’s impressive lyrical chops, his ability to write vocal melodies that are completely unpredictable, the fantastic pacing of the album, and the remarkably even balance he strikes between manic tempo and melodic changes and minimalistic grooves. However, there are a few blemishes.

Namely, near the end of the project, there are two weak entries. The first is “Power On,” which seemed packed full of interesting ideas, but instead meanders from section to section without bringing his ideas together cohesively. This is far superior, however, to the closer and worst track, “Lullaby For My Insomniac,” which just seems to lack completely in the creativity department, waisting somewhat interesting lyrics on a weak track that never quite finds it’s footing.

All told, Assume Form is fantastic! James Blake’s ability to meld genres, experiment with tempos and production, and break the mold of conventional song form all while remaining relatively accessible is simply astounding.

Assume Form is a fantastic addition to both James Blake’s ever improving catalog and the dialogue of modern music as a whole.