Which of the “Must Hear” items actually demanded repeat visits, closer scrutiny?
We’ve seen a bunch of highly touted new offerings in the last six weeks. Below is a brief inventory of them, based on my own inevitably unscientific listening.
Bob Dylan: Tempest. Every new Dylan project triggers massive – and unfairly outsized – expectation, and this one was no different. The material that drew the most media attention – tragedy-mired endurance-test songs about the Titanic and John Lennon that close the record– turned out to be the least significant. The rest? Trenchant, swinging, shrewdly observed songs that feel frighteningly timeless.
Calexico: Algiers; Avett Brothers: The Carpenter; Mumford & Sons: Babel. This turned out to be a great season if you like earnest, passionately sung and well-appointed folk pop brushed with hints of classic country. The Mumford record drew the lion’s share of attention, given the phenomenal success of the last one; it’s rousing in spots, plenty competent throughout, and still it somehow feels slight. Calexico’s songs have a distorted-reality fever-dream demeanor that’s enhanced by the wistful accordions and delicate instrumentation – I find myself reaching for this when I’m in the car at night and don’t want more Bill Evans. The Avett Brothers, produced by Rick Rubin, is more workmanlike, in a good way: These sturdy, affect-free songs will gather resonance as they age. Destined to sneak up on people months from now.
Green Day: Uno! The first of three (!) promised new albums to be released in 16 weeks, Uno! was one-and-done for me. Here’s hoping the other two are less of a flatlined affair, because if not, we’ll be reading lots of reviews on the theme of how stardom puts musicians out of touch with reality.
Beth Orton: Sugaring Season. Easily the most welcome surprise of the fall. On first listen, this long-overdue return (6 years!) seemed to echo the gentler realms of Central Reservation, her enduring great work. With a wonderfully open sound and transparent production from Tucker Martine, this record is shadowy and a bit less immediate on first pass. It blossoms over time.
Grizzly Bear: Shields. Record Four from fast-rising Brooklyn stars is sprawling and unruly and defined by a series of knockout-punch melodies. Breathtaking and impossibly alive, this is the sound we long for when we talk about rock from days gone by.