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album review

7/6/17

The summer months always seem to go by faster than the rest. It’s a bit counterintuitive since the days are longer and full of sun, it seems like time should go by slower, but somehow all the events, holidays, vacations and visits pack everything together and somehow it’s almost the midpoint of July. In an attempt to savor all we get, I’m working on slowing my days down. Spending time with the doors and windows open and music playing loud and clear. Sitting out in the sun and hearing new tunes to open my mind. The latest of these listen is the new record Young from Overcoats, one of the most sonically interesting and pleasing new bands I’ve heard this year.

They blend the beautiful harmonies of First Aid Kit with the electro-pop tendencies of Haim or Lorde, filled with grooves and repeated hooks aplenty. They’re definitely a younger band but that doesn’t count against them in terms of depth; all there songs seem to have an element or idea about self-reflection, self-perception and self-reliance. “Leave the Light On” is a danceable anthem for independent life with some banging horn/key tones, “Smaller Than My Mother” is a raw confession of the inner resentments of relationships. “23” is another standout in this way, with its pointed, no-holding-back explanation of the mental toll of predictable love gone sour. My favorite so far is “Nighttime Hunger,” a pulsing track mourning the struggles of the anxious insomniac. l I love the way they drop out the melody and sing in tight, the way they embrace guttural rhythms close harmonies, the way their voices lilt and float over these eye-popping lyrics. They’ve got a definite style that runs through Young — a great example of an album you can just put on and fall into.

“Nighttime hunger and all the fears that it brings tend to fade in the light
In daytime I build a new me but still dread the night
I try to keep moving but I can’t seem to chase my monsters away
When the darkness comes it takes everything from me…”

~Nighttime Hunger
Overcoats, Young

6/20/17

Anyone who put out their best songs or albums of the year lists before listening in full to Lorde’s Melodrama is most definitely missing something. She’s created one of the most stunning pieces of art to hit mainstream audiences this year — especially from a female artist. She offers a reclamation for any girl that’s been described as “crazy,” “intense” or “too much,” any girl who was burned for feeling out her own human experience.

Lorde’s songs on this album are equal parts vulnerable and empowering. She’s lamenting love gone away, but she’s not about to feel sorry for herself. At first listen, I jumped around on the tracks, and “Hard Feelings/Loveless” was one of the first song to really stop me in my tracks, with vivid descriptions of conversation and feeling. She nails internal emotional strife with visceral and meaningful metaphors, (“Cause I remember the rush, when forever was us/Before all of the winds of regret and mistrust”) over a mixture of beats and synthy tones that feels very now. “Writer in the Dark,” with its piano backbone, is a vigorous and powerful kiss-off that culminates with a falsetto-driven refrain, and a truly honest ode to the damage left by a broken relationship and the way one rebuilds.

“Liability” might be one of the best songs I’ve heard all year, a sad and strong tale of being cast aside. “You’re a little much for me/you’re a liability,” she sings from the voice of others. But something in her perception has such a confidence, as if he is more cognizant of the others’ own shortcomings instead of whatever of those are perceived in her. It’s the perfect anthem for anyone who has felt like their emotional well was brimming over their edges, so much so that others had to turn away as if the problem was in their feelings and not someone else’s inability to empathize. I can’t help but listen to this song and think of all the times I felt too much feeling, as if I couldn’t keep it inside my own skin….Lorde know this feeling inside and out, and she shares it freely with her listeners, an understanding delivered in sheer poetry.

The hype around this album was a rare instance where it was well-deserved. Every word that is written or spoken about this album ought to give credit where credit is due, for someone to open up a vein like this and pour it all out, leaving a beautiful mess for the rest of us to reflect on and bathe in. It’s inspiring, really, what she has done here and the way she carries herself, the way she moves other, the way she is so true to her identity a writer above all else.

“Baby really hurt me
Crying in the taxi
He don’t wanna know me
Says he made the big mistake of dancing in my storm
Says it was poison
So I guess I’ll go home
Into the arms of the girl that I love
The only love I haven’t screwed up
She’s so hard to please
But she’s a forest fire

I do my best to meet her demands
Play at romance, we slow dance
In the living room, but all that a stranger would see
Is one girl swaying alone
Stroking her cheek
They say, ‘You’re a little much for me
You’re a liability
You’re a little much for me’
So they pull back, make other plans
I understand, I’m a liability
Get you wild, make you leave
I’m a little much for
Everyone…”

~Liability
Lorde, Melodrama

3/7/17

One of the best things about getting older? You start caring less and less about what people think of you and your tastes. So it is without a shred of shame I admit I have almost exclusively listened to Ed Sheeran since his billion-views busting Divide album came out Friday (OK, with some Japandroids, The Menzingers and Laura Marling thrown in there, too) and I still think he’s one of the best pop songwriters of his generation.

Sheeran’s spoken word delivery can be construed as annoying to some, but I dig the rhythms and phrases he finds. His guitar playing is distinct and often innovative. And lord, those ballads — he can break hearts and mend them with a refrain with the best of them. “Photograph” and “Tenerife Sea” held the place as my favorite love songs of his last record while “Hearts Don’t Break Around Here” and “Dive” are the ones I’m most into this time around.

My favorite song on the record, though, the one that I go back to play before skipping among the others, is “Castle On The Hill,” a dedication to the friends Ed grew up with and the times they shared. It’s a familiar story for anyone who spent their teenage years with a tight knit group who inevitably broke away from each other as they grew up and life pulled them in separate directions.

Not only is the musicality of the song gorgeous and moving and triumphant, but the topic is one that’s been on my mind a lot lately. Maybe it’s living across the country from those who know me best, maybe it’s wishing we were better able to share the activities and interests of our lives together again. Maybe it’s wishing I had more reunions to look forward to. All I know is when I hear Ed Sheeran sing about driving down country roads, singing to “Tiny Dancer” with his friends and watching sunsets, I think about wandering the city long past our bedtimes, meeting up on a grassy hillside and watching the stars preside over our dreams as we wished upon each and every one of them we’d never have to grow up.

“I’m on my way
Driving at ninety down those country lanes
Singing to “Tiny Dancer”
And I miss the way you make me feel, and it’s real
We watched the sunset over the castle on the hill…”

~Castle On The Hill
Ed Sheeran, Divide

 

3/2/17

One of the albums that’s really snuck up on me this year is Eisley’s I’m Only Dreaming, a record shepherded by Sherri DuPree Bemis. The band once featured three DuPree sisters, but Sherri’s stuck with it alongside other family members and new players, bringing their ambient-pop quality into a new era. I was never a huge fan though I never heard anything I disliked — and Currents had some really beautiful parts — but this one has stuck out to me for having some moments that just seem strikingly honest, raw and realized.

It’s dark, but just dark enough, it’s sweet, but just sweet enough, it’s confident and edgy. Sherri’s lyrics live in that space of just-vague-enough, bringing plenty of imagery and feeling without laying it on too thick. It’s a pleasant listen, if a rather monochromatic one, with every song striking this unique balance of strength, yearning and sensitivity. “Louder Than A Lion” has been my favorite, with “You Are Mine” and “Defeatist” as close seconds.

I’ve always had a huge soft spot for Sherri’ voice (one of the main reasons I dug the Perma record she did with husband Max Bemis). She has such a lovely soprano quality and can hit some insane notes in insane ways with a ton of power behind them, while somehow still sounding angelic. That brightness and lightness carries through the entire album, but I like how she lets herself get into more deeper and softer tones here and there, too. Listening to her, I just get lost in the sound and the way she enunciates what she’s saying, as if every phrase is a little missive from her truest soul (Bonus: listen to her on a recent episode of the Lead Singer Syndrome podcast for the story behind how Eisley came to be, and her utterly cool attitude about her sisters leaving the band and understanding how everyone’s path is different. Not to mention her life touring with small children. She’s totally inspiring!)

I’ve seen Eisley criticized by music writers for being too one-note, for not having enough of an edge to them, but I love the way Sherri’s voice carries the songs, the way the lyrics are sparse, and the way the guitars always seem to have just enough distortion to sound a little off-kilter. No matter how much it feels like it wants to rock harder, Eisley songs have always had such a beautiful, dreamlike quality to them — a reminder that’s OK to sit still, it’s OK to hang back, it’s OK to get lost in the moment, even if the world thinks you should do something greater.

“We fall backwards faster than the speed of sound
If you want to fly we’re able
If you want to flee I’m stable
I’ll stand and fight when you’re out…”
~Louder than a Lion
Eisley, I’m Only Dreaming

2/26/17

Life is busy, almost too busy sometimes, ratcheting up in responsibilities and squeezing out the spare time usually used to sit, reflect, read or just veg out. Fortunately, if you’re as much of a music fan as I am, the soundtrack to your goings-on can offer just enough of an emotional balm to keep you going until you catch your next breath (heck, sometimes it’s better than that and propels you even further).

Lately I’ve been into the newest Andrew McMahon in the Wilderness record, Zombies on Broadway, a buoyant and revealing pop-rock record that dropped a few weeks ago. I was a big Something Corporate I don’t think there was a mix CD in my possession without “Konstantine,” “I Kissed A Drunk Girl” or “I Woke Up In A Car” on it. The debut of Jack’s Mannequin thrilled me as much as anyone and I do think that record will hold up as a seminal classic for the early aughts.

But much of the post-JM solo work has come to me in fits and starts, I don’t think there was a release that I dove into from start to finish the way I have Zombies. The self-titled from 2014 has some great moments and I love love love “Cecelia and the Satellite” and “Maps for the Getaway” has become a theme song of sorts, but I came to it late, probably in 2015 or 2016.

Listening to Zombies, I hear a little bit of all that came before, from the stream-of-conscious spoken delivery in “Brooklyn You’re Killing Me” that feel very Leaving Through the Window, the dance beats of “Don’t Speak For Me (True)” from The Pop Underground era, the romantic anthem of “Love and Great Buildings” that has always been a strength of his. Thematically, Zombies wrestles with the hardships of balancing love, relationships, responsibilities and mental health, always with a hint of hope and optimism. McMahon appears to be able to offer a clinic on how to age and stay young at the same time.

It’s an incredibly tight and cohesive 11 tracks, full of McMahon’s sharp if mildly depressed observations. “Dead Man’s Dollar” darkly struggles with balancing responsibilities and personal strength,”Island Radio” is a stylistic take on a last ditch effort of sorts, and slow burn closer “Birthday Song” is call to one’s owns arms. So much of this album speaks to the strength and maturation one goes through in a life with myriad challenges, multiple mistakes and a massive emotional core. It’s one of the more honest, and catchy, records I’ve heard this year, and one I plan on revisiting time and time again.

“Pocket change and subway cars
Our big ideas filled empty bars
You might be from the moon or mars
Either way, I’m never going home

So, let’s hang an anchor from the sun
There’s a million city lights but
You’re number one
You’re the reason I’m still
Up at dawn
Just to see your face

We’ll be going strong
With the vampires, baby
We belong, we belong awake
Swinging from the fire escape”

~Fire Escape
Andrew McMahon in the Wilderness, Zombies on Broadway

12/21/16

Another year, another end-of-the-year list. I’m getting in the habit of these things now, and also getting familiar with the sense of pressure and dread at shuffling my favorite music around.

Meriting a spot on this means it was music I couldn’t tear myself away from, that I binge-listened to on dull afternoons, evening walks or morning workouts. I turned to these albums when I couldn’t turn to anything else, when their hooks and chord progressions ran their way through my mind all day, or when I needed to hear that heartbreaking line one more time. I felt like I listened to more new music in 2016 than any other, mostly due to a reviewing side-hustle as well as getting Spotify premium on my phone, so narrowing it all down to 10 was hard. Obviously this year also saw incredible, groundbreaking releases from the likes of Bowie and Beyonce, and that song from The Chainsmokers hooked me as well as anybody, but these are the records that really resonated with me. I hope when I listen to them in 2017 and in years to come, I’ll be able to close my eyes and remember the place I was in when I first heard them, blanketed in sunshine settling into my Left Coast skin.

10) Kevin Devine – Instigator


One of my favorite songwriters, who in my opinion just keeps getting better with time. I regret that I was unable to catch him on tour this year, as the rocking and rolling songs on Instigator promise a great show. But I love it for walks around the city and morning jumpstarts, too, as the way Devine phrases his thoughts, feelings and societal observations are ripe for pondering. Though KD likely has one of the biggest catalogs of artists of his caliber/generation, I’d say that Instigator is a standout that could be presented to show a new listener what he’s all about.

9) Miranda Lambert – The Weight of These Wings


Ms.Lambert takes the crown for my favorite record to sing this year. Though it was a fourth-quarter release, I haven’t stopped listening to this record since the day it came out, and it pushed me back toward regular guitar practice. Lambert really tells a story, and gives so much context to heartbreak, growing up, moving on and self-exploration, all with a wry smile and whiskey glass by her side. For that, and for the bold vulnerability, I bow down.

8) Moose Blood – Blush


These guys came out of seemingly nowhere to quickly become one of my favorite UK rock groups — and Blush burst forth this year as a collection of edgy heartfelt anthems. Nothing better than seeing them live at The Fonda opening for The Wonder Years, too — I love their cynicism in spite of youth, and their energy in spite of the cynicism. I love their obvious romanticism on songs like “Knuckles” and “Honey” and the aching regret on tracks like “Glow” and “Sway.” Also like how all the song titles are one word. Blush is as upbeat as you could want from a 2016 pop punk band, and as smooth and sweet as its namesake.

7) Car Seat Headrest – Teens of Denial


Hearing Will Toledo’s voice for the first time is like hearing a memory you can’t place — you don’t know where, but you swear you’ve heard it before. He’s just that ubiquitous. As a brilliant guitar player and subtle, wry lyricist, Toledo is chock full of talent and has a substantial following behind him. This year’s Teens of Denial was a stunner, in its own depressing and over-it way. Gems like “Vincent” and “Drunk Drivers/Killer Whales” show how hard Car Seat Headrest can rock without abandoning pensive sensibilities, one of my favorite lines rock musicians can walk. Toledo has tapped into a raw rock and roll vibe that used to only exist in bands you had to go backwards to find, but this record showed how alive and well the genre can be.

6) Bon Iver – 22, A Million


God this album! I don’t have it on vinyl yet, but of all the records on this list, it’s the one I have my eye on the most. Justin Vernon has established himself as the kind of musician who pushes boundaries, and this eagerly awaited album shows that he does not make waves for their own sake, but rather because he has developed something to say. They heavy reliance on vocal manipulation and other-wordly echoes made 22, A Million an unforgettable listen, if only because it sounds like *nothing* else out there. But it has the same beauty as Bon Iver’s breakthrough work, with a few more levels of abstraction thrown in. I fell in love from the start, and this is now one of my favorite “focus” records when my mind starts running away with me. “8(circle)” is my favorite, although I’m probably not alone there. Three cheers for artistic expression, and those stay their path.

5) Joyce Manor- Cody


If I had to recommend an album for anyone to listen to this year, it’d be Joyce Manor. Hands down. For me, they’ll be up there with TWY and Brand New, carrying that mantle in their own sharp style. But we already knew that; the best thing about Cody is the way they’ve harnessed their aggression and thrash into polished hooks and climatic builds. “Last You Heard of Me” was my anthem upon release of the single, and it exemplifies the meaning and message these guys can cram into what on the surface one excepts to be a silly little pop punk song. Joyce doesn’t take themselves too seriously, which I love, but there’s nothing silly or little about them at this point.

4) The Hotelier – Goodness


Deep and resonant, heartfelt and literary….The Hotelier’s much -anticipated follow-up did not disappoint, nor did it simply satiate. Goodness is lush and full and while it doesn’t have the same sadness as their breakthrough record Home, Like No Place Is There, it has the same existential darkness and rock-solid progressions. Songs like “Piano Player” and “Soft Animal” channel the turmoil that we’ve come to know and love from The Hotelier, while pushing musical boundaries with different kinds of builds and busts. There’s a lot of depth here, and the shower of critical reception on Goodness gave me hope that it was recognized by not just niche audiences but the music world at large. After playing this album to death upon release, I can still put it on and get lost in it — damn right, they did it again.

3) Jimmy Eat World- Integrity Blues


Getting to listen to Integrity Blues for the first time felt like getting a phone call from a friend you haven’t talked to in awhile. You knew what they were up to, you knew they were doing OK, but you hadn’t heard the ins and outs yet. With this record, the singles were promising, but a part of me held my breath thinking this could be an album full of filler. Not so! Integrity Blues is likely the best album JEW’s put out since Chase This Light, and though my adoration for Invented is a very real thing, the songs on this record are true and honest alternative rock that embrace maturity in melody and meaning…the closer, “Pol Roger,” is easily one of my favorite Jimmy Eat World songs of all time, and not just for those sweet, sweet Jim Atkins harmonies.

2) case/lang/veirs – case/lang/veirs


This album got under my skin so quick, it was like falling in love at first sight. I think I read about the famed, talented trio just a couple days after the album dropped, and got right in on the ground floor with it. And it blew me away, with its stunning harmonies, poetic effort and lush sonic landscape. There’s not a song on this record that doesn’t feel like a breath of fresh air to me. There’s a sweetness and a strength, an assertive foot forward and knowing shy smile. Every song paints a picture of people, places and things, and eloquently describes intricate emotions with excellent harmonies and beautiful, lithe guitar parts. “I Want To Be Here,” “Supermoon” and “Best Kept Secret” all became instant classics for me, and the perfect songs to soundtrack my first summer in LA.

1) Pinegrove – Cardinal


I had trouble figuring out what was my favorite of my favorites, but I think I knew it had to be Pinegrove. I made an instant connection with Cardinal for its unique sound and literary qualities, but the album’s staying power really went above and beyond anything else this year. Pinegrove was the easiest band for me to bring up when talking music with friends, as I knew they were likely to be a spot-on suggestion for anyone who likes alt-rock, folk-rock or anything in the indie vein. When you hear songs like “Aphasia” and “New Friends,” you’re struck by not only their honesty but their plaintive innocence, as if you’re having a conversation with a thoughtful friend about your lives and feelings. That familiarity makes Pinegrove instantly accessible, even before you get into their slightly quirky and innovative ways of structuring songs. Seeing them at The Echo was one of my most memorable concert experiences of the year, too, if only because the way they layered up their sound with extra synth & auxiliary really brought their songs to life. There’s a comfort in knowing that if I heard this album when I was an emo teenager, I would’ve loved it for the same reasons I do now — and it gives me hope that today’s emo teenagers are being introduced to quality indie rock. Pinegrove also delivered one of my most definitive favorite lyrical truisms of the year — “I am outta my goddamn mind and out to California,” which sums it up as well as anything. So looking forward to continuing to wrap myself up in Cardinal, and see where this band goes next.

And as a little bonus, here’s a playlist of my favorite songs of the year, added in no particular order than how I remembered them. I kept it to one per artist, off of albums that dropped this calendar year (so you can expect that new Ryan Adams’ tune here next year). Looking over it, I’m really struck by the variety of the artists, and how despite their differences, they all managed to strike the same chord in me.

12/10/16

Though December is one of the busiest times of year, full of holidays and bustle and activity, for me it always seems to turn into a pensive time. Maybe it’s from growing up in snow country, where we locked ourselves away, or maybe it’s my own meandering mind looking to ground itself, but slow, steady music is the perfect companion for these times of thoughtful  introspection. It was a pure stroke of luck, then, to be introduced to After Marianne by the good folks of Gold Ship Records. The French dream pop foursome have a new EP “It’s a Wonderful Place To Be (Over),” a well-executed and beautiful collection of emotive, billowing songs.

The record opens with a warm and tonal overture, setting a mood akin to a Sigur Ros or Explosions in the Sky record. When the piano kicks in on “Take Care,” it’s clear to the listener that this will be a patient listen, one full of feeling and understated drama. I loved this track instantly, mostly for its build-up with increasingly powerful undertones and added back-up vocals, as well as the steady piano chords throughout. The listener gets the sense of loss without regret, sadness without paralysis as lead singer Mathilda ponders the unknown, singing in a deep alto “Now, how we gonna face all the fears?”

The following tracks have the same warmth and ambiance, coming mostly from the synth tones and Mathilda’s velvet-rich vocals. After Marianne nails it on atmosphere, paying close attention to the sounds that make up their style without cluttering it up too much. It reminded me of Stars, especially on the organ-propelled duet “Love is Just A Game.” The final track “Space” culminates the album with a flourish, full of little riffs and existential musings (“I’m getting old/but no one cares”) that build to a climax of trembling and shimmering cymbals and synths. The track ends with the recording of an astronaut looking down on earth, seemingly letting the detailed emotional struggles lift up and out into the universe.

After a few listens, I really appreciated the simplicity behind After Marianne’s production, the way the band loops phrases and keeps the tones low, mellow, ringing and rich. There’s nothing jagged or harsh or overtly edgy here, rather, the focus is on beautiful sounds coming together, making for the kind of listening experience that feels like learning a warm little secret.

11/21/16

From the low and rumbled opening tones, Miranda Lambert’s “The Weight of These Wings” is one of the best country offerings of the year, and I’ve been losing myself in its beauty daily.

A double album is a rare and risky move, as who can put out that much work that merits attention all at once? It seems like you’re asking for filler. But here, every song offers a little bit more of the unfolding story, and it’s solid start to finish. After hearing the lead single “Vice” earlier this year I looked forward to what kind of soul-searching Lambert would offer up. I love the tones, topics and narratives she shares, the kind that clearly raise her from the radio country throne she once occupied into a higher plane of performers.

The opening track “Running Just In Case” is a slow burn, the kind that color most of the album. “I guess no one ever taught me how to stay,” she says, just one of the many poignant observations to come. “Getaway Driver” struck me as an instant favorite, with its harmonies and cyclical chords and ballad-style perspective. Then I found out it was a newly anticipated collaboration with Anderson East — I would say there’s some magic brewing in that pairing.

Lambert is bluesy and bold, and as assertive as we’ve come to expect, but she’s not just belting for its own sake. To the contrary, there’s more soft tones than there are loud ones. While this record is fueled by heartbreak (songs like “Tin Man” chronicle the pains of love) it doesn’t feel like a break-up album as much as come-back-together one. It’s Lambert’s spine, strength and vision for her life to come that ebb and flow, and she filters her many relationship reflections through a lens of moving forward as a whole person. It’s so much more motivational and introspective than maudlin or mushy as one might think “country” to be. And it’s not all bad news. Our narrator is a girl-about-town who travels and creates and believes in herself, and even love, despite its failings. “Pushin’ Time” is the romantic peak of the album, and it’s taken the mantle of my favorite Miranda track (previously held by “Bathroom Sink”).

While it’s the slow jams that steal the show, the upbeat tracks are still miles beyond what we heard on “Platinum.” They embrace lots more instrumentation and a folksier sound that’s more Willie Nelson or Bonnie Raitt than the radio country mainstays like Jason Aldean or Kenny Chesney that Lambert usually shares the charts with. Musically, there’s excellent choices and production on this album that keep it elevated but accessible. Acoustic guitars, horn sections, pedal steel, muted drums…it’s a very Americana lexicon paired with Lambert’s confessionals that make for a mature, full-fledged sound. She lets her voice crack and fall in very natural ways, instead of belting out pop-star style, though there’s tons of power in her voice seen on tracks like “Good Ol’ Days” and “To Learn Her.” At a time when excellent folk and country has captured modern audiences through the likes of Jason Isbell, Chris Stapleton and Sturgill Simpson, Lambert looks to pivot from an established female artist who can command those same indie, picky audiences. To be fair, Kasey Musgraves and Ashley Monroe have done this too, but from a different angle, as Lambert already has a big following. Bottom line: “The Weight of These Wings” has eternal qualities that will appeal to listener beyond her core audience.

Lyrically, there’s plenty of moments that are either heartbreaking, cutting, comforting or inspiring. “I don’t have the nerve to use my heart,” she sings on the closer of the first album, just one example of many well-crafted lines in a song flooded with gorgeous steel guitar parts. I think I read somewhere that this is the most co-writing Lambert has done on a record, and it speaks beautifully to her self-aware and poetic. “I was born a bull in a China cabinet,” she says on “Things That Break,” kicking off 3:48 worth of metaphor and vivid imagery. “Keeper of the Flame” is a rallying cry to all those who has ever been called to be the kind of somebody who accomplishes something. Then there’s the bookend songs about highways that start and finish the album, with plenty more journeying in between.

Spout off her name to high-minded listeners and it might conjure up images of flashy sequined dresses, songs about trashing cheating ex’s cars with baseball bats and celebrity romances. But with all its beauty and poetry, “The Weight of These Wings” shows us a version of of Miranda Lambert that’s a far cry from the reputation or stereotypes. Instead of any trope, she’s simply herself, and as authentic, true, powerful, talented and strong as a woman, artist or woman artist ought to be.

“I didn’t plan on fallin’ fast;
I didn’t know I could be kissed like that.
No I’m tradin’ miles for minutes.
This bed’s too big without you in it.

Sometimes love acts out of spite,
And good things happen over night.
Can’t take it slow cause you and I are pushin’ time
You and I are pushin’ time.”
~Pushin’ Time
Miranda Lambert, The Weight of These Songs

6/14/16

“Ten feet to the sky
Feeling inside
Nothing will save me
I’ve gotta save myself

Water’s creeping in
It’s darker that it’s been
Seems like nothing’s left out there
But a scratching call
Like it’s worth seeing the ground again.

Keep hanging on.
I know I’ll get there some day
I’ll be free of this some way
But I’m doing what I can
I don’t need a rope anymore.”
~Rope
Empty Houses, Daydream

Finding the right new record is an important rite of passage for the start of summertime, even in the land of endless sea and sun. Answering this call at the ready is “Daydream,” the full-length debut from Detroit-based Empty Houses and one of the most feel-good albums I’ve heard this year.

The first thing you hear are the charming overtones of Motown 60s soul girl groups, with lead singer Ali Shea’s magnificent, soulful alto and plenty of jingle bell auxiliary serving up Wall-of-Sound flavors for the Pro Tools age. But track after track reveals reliably deep guitar grooves and catchy melodies, and the listener realizes that the retro influence is far from a trope but a trained and honed sound on behalf of all the band members. Beyond that, it’s just pure fun — and music is supposed to be fun, right?

“Daydream” rips through 10 tracks in about 30 minutes, a perfect set time full of dance-worthy breaks and funky riffs. But what I like most about their sound is despite all their pep, Empty Houses isn’t about bubble gum. Many of Shea’s sentiments are heartsick and full of regret, wondering how a love went wrong or pushing it aside to see the start of a new day. Their ballads, in particular “Every Word,” are powerful piano-fueled tracks suitable to soundtrack an evening in or a drive down the coast. By and large, though, “Daydream” is an up-tempo record packed with attitude, and it falls into one of my favorite genres: happy-sounding music for sad and ponderous people.

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