By Spencer. September was full of so many big releases, I’m still working my way through them all. So while we very well may have more to say about The Dead Weather, Gary Clark, Jr., Foals, Beach House, Joan Shelley, CHVRCHES, Patty Griffin, Silversun Pickups, and plenty of others, today’s edition of The Consumer is a progress report of sorts on several artists who have been longtime favorites of the site. We start with Glen Hansard.
Glen Hansard – Didn’t He Ramble: Irish singer/songwriter Glen Hansard is that strange artist who has achieved worldwide fame without most people knowing it. You can thank the musical Once for that, which has become beloved all over the globe as both a film and a hit Broadway stage production. Yet how many music lovers still don’t know Glen Hansard’s name? Setting aside the injustice of that, we should view it as a blessing, because it has freed Hansard from the trappings of expectations and allowed him to keep on making music that is stunningly personal and authentic. Didn’t He Ramble is his second solo album since putting his former bands, The Frames and The Swell Season, on hiatus, and for the first time, he sounds truly comfortable being alone.
His last album, Rhythm And Repose, was a breakup album, both personally and professionally; it followed a split with Once co-star and Swell Season bandmate Marketa Irglova. And you could hear it—the songs were beautiful but so downcast that the album could be a difficult listen for stretches. But on Didn’t He Ramble, there’s a lightness we haven’t heard in Hansard’s music since the early days of The Frames. Drawing upon influences like Van Morrison and Bruce Springsteen, the songs burn with hopeful energy and allow Hansard’s voice to shine as it always does—case in point, “Her Mercy,” replete with rollicking outro and horn line. Even a slower track like “McCormack’s Wall” plays less like a somber note and more like one last drinking song before the pub closes—a moment of contentment and contemplation that draws upon Hansard’s Irish roots in a way his music never has before.
Glen Hansard – “Her Mercy”
Ryan Adams – 1989: Though we haven’t discussed it yet on the site, Taylor Swift’s 1989 has been the subject of unending debate among the S&N contributors for almost a year now. Some of us are staunch defenders of Taylor who accuse her critics of being snobs about pop; others (ahem, me) say we have no problem with pop, but simply think that if T-Swift is going to continue to sing mostly about teenage topics like cute boys and keeping in style, her music should be rated accordingly and shouldn’t be touted aside other young artists like Adele or Laura Marling or Noah Gundersen who manage to write about adult topics with real sophistication.
But I digress. Ryan Adams has cast his vote and it’s clear he’s in the pro-Swift camp, because he has covered and recorded 1989 in its entirety—and it’s pretty good. True to form, Adams’s 1989 has generated just as much debate among the S&N staff, with some finding it boring and others arguing that it reveals the lyrical depth and complexity of Swift’s songwriting in a way that didn’t always come to the forefront beneath all that pop production. Count me somewhere in the middle. “Blank Space” and “Shake It Off” take their namesake tracks in intriguing new directions, and many of the weaker songs from the original album (“Out Of The Woods,” “I Wish You Would”) become far more interesting under Adams’s production. He continues on his Springsteen bent from last year, which sometimes works (“Shake It Off”) and sometimes comes off as repetitive and dull (“Welcome To New York”). Even accepting the uneven result, I think this new 1989 is a fascinating exercise in songcraft, revealing just how open and malleable the concept of a “song” can really be, and how two different types of talent can create intriguingly divergent pieces of art from the exact same clay.
Ryan Adams – “Blank Space”
Lana Del Rey – Honeymoon: In reviewing her last album, I asked the question, how much longer can Lana Del Rey get away with doing the same thing before it gets boring? On Honeymoon, she’s flirting with answering that question. Don’t get me wrong, it wouldn’t be a proper Lana Del Rey album if she ever abandoned her trademark retro-60s Hollywood vamp vibe. And many of the songs on Honeymoon, standing alone, would fit right in alongside her best tracks. The problem here is that, when played in sequence, it all starts to drag—and the tempo is the culprit. Like that empty barroom singer who kept popping up on True Detective Season Two, she seems hellbent on keeping the mood dour and depressing, and style and sex alone can’t overcome it. If you’re fan, though, there are definitely some keepers, like “Music To Watch Boys To”—a song that continues Del Rey’s efforts to crystallize in song form a perfect little moment of vapid female adolescent self-destructiveness as seen through the lens of ironic hipster quasi-feminism. And I have to say, I love Lana Del Rey for her persistence in painting that identity, even if I hate her for making me write that last sentence.
Lana Del Rey – “Music To Watch Boys To”
Metric – Pagans In Vegas: Electronic rock outfit Metric’s 2009 album, Fantasies, was one of the great pop albums of the last decade—aggressive, melodic, fun. The follow-up, 2012’s Synthetica, was only slightly more experimental, and while it didn’t have the staying power of its predecessor, it was still highly listenable. On this month’s Pagans In Vegas, Metric don’t quite pull off the hat trick. It’s frustrating, you can still hear some great pop songwriting on these tracks; what does them in is a reliance on overproduction, as if the band isn’t quite confident enough to let the songs speak for themselves. Time and again, a great hook is coupled with some distracting sound effect or quirky twist, as on the lead single, “The Shade,” which borrows Pac-Man-style blips to fill out what would otherwise be a fairly typical Metric song. The battle between doing what you do best or trying to expand your sound is one of the great dilemmas that every artist faces, and in this instance, I wish Metric had just given us more of the same. Still, there’s enough here to merit your attention—even if, unlike their best work, you won’t still be listening to this one five years from now.
Metric – “The Shade”
FIDLAR – Too: L.A. garage punk band FIDLAR is back with their follow-up to last year’s self-titled debut, and rather than belabor you with my thoughts on it, I’ll just quote our occasional S&N contributor, Hendricks, who sums it up perfectly: “It’s loud, obnoxious, and immature. Pretty much everything you should expect from FIDLAR and it’s fucking awesome.”
FIDLAR – “40oz. On Repeat”