Bill Callahan – ‘Gold Record’
Nowadays, there are surprise records, there are the long-pending ones, there are those who are overly fond of their concept records and there are those neglecting the album concept as a whole. And then there’s … Bill Callahan. With last year’s Shepherd in a Sheep Skin Vest, Callahan decided to disrupt the usual album expectancy cycle by revealing it over the course of weeks on several streaming platforms after he didn’t release anything for five years before that. Gold Record takes another step towards the dissolution of the usual listening habits as Callahan released all songs individually – except for one – prior to the official release of the record – well, I guess that’s how you switch the concept of a ‘Single’ completely. But Callahan has always been a songwriter of his own terms – not by design but by impulsion. So Gold Record doesn’t come as a surprise nor is it an album of someone who doesn’t care anymore. It is the testament of an artist slowly realising again that there are still a lot of a stories in him.
The way Callahan can turn a song like Pigeons that starts with said birds exploding from eating wedding rice into a sardonic/romantic roadmovie tells you a thing or two about how singular his writing actually is. And still he is as much the observer as a character in his own story. Of course it’s a bit cheesy when he shares his advice for the newlyweds he’s driving towards the Mexican border in his white limo: „When you are dating you only see each other/And the rest of us can go to hell/But when you are married, you are married to the whole wide world“. As Callahan knows that it’s cheesy, he immediately breaks the fourth wall: “How my words had gone over, well, I couldn’t tell / Potent advice or preachy as hell“ – and that is, we suppose, only half-irony. Just as much as the intro ‘Hi, I’m Johnny Cash’ and the outro ‘Sincerely L. Cohen’ are only half-ironic. In Callahan‘s world, there’s just four minutes and a story between Folsom Prison and Clinton Street; between the man dressed in black and a famous blue raincoat. In Callahan‘s words, there is just as much space as there is density. In Callahan‘s voice there is just as much calm wisdom as there is restless melancholy. His role now is that of a singing family man, not that of a familiar singing man. All of Gold Record is designed that way, it is its essential fabric: A calm, elliptic, but still unruly stream of acoustic guitar and gentle bariton that doesn’t need your attention, but deserves it. And there is still a lot of that where it came from. No matter how it will be released to the world. (Henning Grabow)
Tricky – ‘Fall To Pieces’
Loss, sadness, pain: These three motifs are universal when it comes to creating art. Often, it resolves into something truly mesmerizing, something that often makes more sense when it’s heard but not read. Sometimes, when it comes to music that was caused by a lot of pain – or to be more precise – death, it can feel a bit perverse to judge this work as a critic, or even a recipient, because it is so intimate. Even though Tricky’s music has never been intended for carefree listening, his twelfth solo album hits directly in the mark. Written and recorded after the death of his daughter, it is his most personal and painful work to date. However, the now Berlin-based Bristolian artist also showcases some of the most stunning songs of his three decade-spanning career. As usual, there’s much to discover in the various samples and elements within the songs. Running Off features a Greek-like melody below the enchanting vocals of Polish singer Marta Złakowska.
Although she was only discovered by him two years ago, she reminds of Tricky’s early vocal features in the 90s. Many of the songs are cerebral such as Fall Please, which features gospel-like lyrics next to a breakbeat rhythm. With repetitive piano accords and Tricky repeating the words I Hate This Fucking Pain, the track I Hate This Pain will certainly send a lump down your throat. This metaphor makes perfect sense while describing the general atmosphere of Fall To Pieces, too. At times it is bittersweet, then haunting, sometimes even cathartic. Eventually, the fourth track I’m In The Doorway brings in lightness into the threat that constant pain and grief hold. With vocals from Danish singer Oh Land and a minimalistic production, it imitates the process that Tricky named one of his best tracks after. Its name? Overcome. (Louisa Zimmer)
Hannah Georgas – ‘All That Emotion’
Long before this pandemic and its spontaneous lockdown creativity made Aaron Dessner produce a Taylor Swift record and instantly turned him into the world’s top producer for gentle indie-folk with pop appeal the praised member of The National always had has his eyes on new talent. And if you combine that with his unresting work speed it’s not totally surprising that he found time to produce the new Hannah Georgas record in late 2018 and early 2019 while simultaneously touring and recording with his main band. Now, All That Emotion gets released and its warm and mellow sound perfectly fits into this chaotic year and somehow it feels the tender songs of the Canadian songwriter were meant to spread solace in a time of crisis as she reflects on everyday relationships and struggles with life in general as it sees Georgas writing about these personal stories in a very calm and unpretentious way. “Hide behind all that emotion” she sings in the opening title-track and although that’s obviously a lie when you take a look at the full record, there is a certain restraint in her performance which underlines the laidback vibe of these songs.
It’s not entirely folklore territory here, Hannah Georgas took a different, more progressive path with Dessner, someone that also sees her embracing electronic music elements way more. A song like Dreams is closer to 80s new wave magic than to traditional songwriter folk while a track like Play It Away experiments with jazzy break beats. Tiny electronic blips and pieces team up with plain piano melodies that give the protagonist and her pure voice a lot of space. Hannah Georgas describes the aspect of “calm confidence” as a driving notion behind All That Emotion and that sums up the character of this album pretty well. The artist takes her strength from a certain calmness, channelling artists like Cat Power and Aimee Mann. It’s an album filled with mighty little anthems that don’t feel like ones. It’s a gentle and pure piece of indie-folk pop that is more carried by the artist than her producer so needless to say this won’t be the last we’ve seen and heard of Hannah Georgas. (Norman Fleischer)
Josiah Johnson – ‘Every Feeling On A Loop’
It is really tempting to take Josiah Johnson’s debut Every Feeling On A Loop as a mere return of the musician back to the roots of the acclaimed indie-folk act The Head And The Heart, which he co-founded in 2009 and then left five years ago. And yet, for all the familiar raw, acoustic charm his new output carries, there is a different spirit breathing through this beautiful set of songs. When he took a leave from the beloved band project, Johnson had just gotten out of rehab – and it was not really the question of when he would be back writing songs and playing music, but more like, if ever again. Luckily, the latter came to be true and the songwriter’s first-ever full solo record is a stunning and at times wondrous document of an artist returning from anxiety, burnout and addiction. Here’s to new beginnings, these songs seem to declare. And Josiah Johnson lets them shine bright with hope and full of confidence.
Every Feeling On A Loop is a mostly straightforward folk record, dominated by acoustic guitars and the mellow baritone vocals. Josiah Johnson sure occupies his home ground here, but within these markings, he is creating buzzing harmonies in their most passionate form. In that, an uplifting mindset is constantly crossing the stream of melodious waves. „We are made of possibility“, it blasts out of the middle part of the opening False Alarms. Nobody Knows picks up the lighthearted buzz and alternates between well-kept verses and passionate sing-along choruses. The following I Wish I Had sets a solemn initial tone, just with an acoustic guitar and the singer’s voice, slowly builds up its way upward, accompanied by brass instruments and a steady rhythmic base. In a similar passion, Rise Up celebrates the virtue of melody in its truest form and it really makes you fall willingly into the current, Josiah Johnson has burrowed with his voice. He may not have revolutionised the art of singing songs along with an acoustic guitar, but his passion and his uplifting edge are truly larger than life. Most confidently sung on the penultimate upbeat The World’s Not Gonna End: “I know you’re more than capable. It hurts but you can grow large enough to allow it all”. (Andreas Peters)
The Bright Light Social Hour – ‘Jude Vol II’
Music can be healing. That is what The Bright Light Social Hour believe, too. On Jude Vol I and Vol II they work through the traumatic experience of their friend and band manager Alex taking his own life. The tracks vary from contemplative tear-jerking ballads to psychedelic rock-driven pieces of musical and emotional catharsis. The Austin-based quartet have always had their distinct hazy indie rock sound bordering on shoegaze and psychedelica, but on the two Volumes of the epic memorial they created, they sharpen their musical profile. Named after the Alex’ middle name, Jude, the compilation of songs invites on a journey from sorrow to hope.
“Not all the songs are about Alex but I think even those that aren’t, have a bittersweet mix of overwhelming beauty and terrible loss”, says Jackie, the brother of the passed. And he is right, even the upbeat vibes of Got To Know have a pinching melancholia inherent to them. So Come On features the blown out hazy guitars and vocals that seem to turn the faded colors of your favorite beach towel into a beautiful melancholy ridden song. Enough, the album’s lead single, probably captures the energy of The Bright Light Social Hour best. Its almost reggae reminiscent keys and the reverbed guitar speak of sunny days, walking through the mess left behind by a storm. That is what the band is doing, they are coping with a traumatic experience turning it into an epic musical monument for their lost friend. (Liv Toerkell)