Just as summer was starting, 19 year old Lindsey Jordan’s debut album as Snail Mail was released by Matador Records. Matador is a fitting label for Lush as it recalls early 90s “slacker” bands like Pavement and Jale. Growing up in Maryland, Jordan was a big hockey fan and player, the sport features prominently in the video for second single “Heatwave” whose upbeat chorus and crunching guitars are one of the finest moments on the album.
Jordan’s deadpan delivery doesn’t change much over the course of the melancholy ten tracks. On first single, “Pristine” it is used to great effect as she delivers the lines “it just feels like the same party every weekend…and if you do find someone better/I’ll still see you in everything”. The drum fills and tambourine on “Let’s Find An Out” add a subtle dimension to the song. “Speaking Terms” features a nice guitar line with drums punched up in the mix. Elsewhere, Lush is an album where the singles are certainly a step above the other tracks. With four very good songs, Snail Mail has a lot to grow on.
The latest album for Chan Marshall, aka Cat Power, is not without controversy. The Wanderer is her first album since 1996 not released on Matador Records who rejected the new album when presented. This lead to a delay of over a year but resulted in a positive when first single “Woman” with Lana Del Rey was added. The defiant track features Cat Power and Del Rey duetting on verses and blending their voices during the chorus.
This is a spare, blues and folk record. Often times Cat Power is just accompanied by a guitar, piano and other light instrumentation. The title track is almost hymn like, solemn and reflective. “Horizon” is a letter to the family and features an uplifting guitar line that feels like it’s building but never quite gets there. Second single “Stay” is a cover of a Rhianna track that Marshall heard while travelling in a cab. Self-produced, The Wanderer is the record that Marshall wanted to make. Quiet and personal, it is one that as it unfolds over the nearly 40 minutes is unfortunately hard to not have the mind start to wander as well.
After the commercial failure of the first Simon & Garfunkel album, Wednesday Morning, 3AM, Paul Simon retreated to England to play theatres and folk clubs. It was there with just a microphone and acoustic guitar that Simon recorded the tracks that would form The Paul Simon Songbook. The album combines tracks from the S&G debut and others that would appear on future releases.
Classic tracks that appear is the first recording of the effective young man angst “I Am a Rock”, a version of “The Sound of Silence” where Simon practically spits out the first lines and a beautiful rendition of “Kathy’s Song”. Other highlights include the Billy Bragg inspiration in “Leaves That Are Green” and vocal charm of “April She Will Come”. The unfortunate Dylan parody of “A Simple Desultory Philippic…” is dreadful but is redeemed by the lyrical wordplay of “Flowers Never Bend With The Rainfall”
The sound of the album can be brittle and stark at times, a lone performer sitting on a stool with just a white spotlight upon them. There is little warmth or texture but Simon is in fine vocal form singing songs from the heart. This is an essential recording as Paul Simon finds his voice and performs tracks that would become beloved the world over in just a few short years.
Lead by Tracyanne Campbell, it’s been five years since the last release from Glasgow’s much-loved Camera Obscura. Sadly, two years after recording their last album, Desire Lines, keyboardist Carey Lander past away. After being away for so long, it is an absolute treat that this album came out earlier in 2018 on Merge records. Teaming up with Crybaby’s Danny Coughlan, the duo strikes up what is probably the best band you’d ever hear if you stumbled across them in a random pub on a cold winter’s night.
With an autumnal warmth, the album mentions the US several times, especially in the infectious single “Alabama”. A joyous, upbeat track, Campbell sings of “when I’m an old lady, I still miss you like crazy”. The duo trade verses on “Deep In The Night” before a soft Campbell vocal appears at the tail end. Subtle horns give a bit of swing to “Home & Dry” before the charming country of “It Can’t Be Love Unless It Hurts”.
The album is let down slightly in the middle where “Jacqueline” brings the mood down before a couple of forgettable tracks get trotted out. Things rebound towards the end with the Belle and Sebastian 90s indie rock of Danny’s “Cellophane Girl” complete with handclaps and closes with a Georgia O’Keefe tribute in “O’Keeffe”. The album really shines with the first four tracks which are some of the classiest indie rock moments of 2018. A winning duo that would be a joy to hear more from in the future.
“Me and my husband/we are doing better/it’s always been just him and me together”. Mitski’s fifth album, Be the Cowboy, is the Japanese/American’s second for Dead Oceans is a dynamic effort. The lyric comes from “Me and My Husband” which like many tracks presents a mature take on love and approaches the topic from one of many different angles. 14 songs appear over 33 concise minutes with songs working like quick snapshots into a particular emotion.
Starting with just an electronic guitar, “A Pearl” ends up euphoric when the horns swell a third of the way through. Mitski’s vocals are a treat on the swooning country track “Lonesome Love” before the guitar crunch of “Remember My Name” appears. Second single “Nobody” has a 70s disco feel while singing of the loneliness that envelopes a person when on the road whereas “Pink In The Night” is all atmosphere about the confusion of being in love or at least infatuated with someone. Like others we’ve listened to this year, Mitski varies the music style throughout but the short bursts of songs never outstay their welcome.