Let’s say that Slowdive put out albums before and that is your primary interest in being curious about this album. Let’s just say that. It helps but doesn’t matter whether you have or have not heard them — this album fucking rules. Dream pop, not sure what it means, but I associate it mainly with delay and echoed instrumentation, which is a trite simplification. However, Slowdive’s name is mentioned in correlation with this notion. “Slomo” opens the album, it crescendos and fades, disappearing into a red hued cloud. “Don’t Know Why” is more pulsed movement but also grand, it is a sea of birds overhead, the close shot of the person looking out of a window, memories or possibilities; you are swept up in the emotion. “Falling Ashes” is a beautiful occurrence, a starlit sky, it expands outward, it covers you in sound and emotion. Don’t call this a comeback, this album is as relevant as anything this band or any band is doing at the moment, and it is constantly beautiful.
Bonnie “Prince” Billy, like Nina Simone or Sinatra, is a great interpreter of song. He is able to embody the spirit of the song and re-introduce it in a way that exalts not only the song, but also calls for a possible reexamination of the covered, who in this case is Merle Haggard. Haggard, without this particular attention, has an amazing catalog and is a viable artist in his own right, so the task is brave. “I’m Always a Mountain When I Fall” is Haggard as Motown sung by Billy: “Losin’s always been a way of life for me, but I’m always a mountain when I fall,” a common trope of country and blues is self deprecation, but losing never jammed this hard. “I Always Get Lucky With You” is a wedding song in the salacious and the romantic, something you might drunkenly grope a date to, endearing but slightly foul, it is romance. “Some of Us Fly” is another gem; “Some don’t give a damn, some give it their all, some us fly, but all of us fall.” This should be played at graduations and funerals, sobering yes, but true. Bonnie “Prince” Billy brilliantly plays and displays these songs in tribute, but also showcases the mastery of Merle Haggard and the players assembled to put this album together. I love it immensely.
Mac DeMarco is seemingly a purveyor of the easy living aesthetic. His latest, This Old Dog, is a mellow affair, not in the sense of excitement, but in the way that the songs are laid bare, sparse in arrangement and instrumentation; but a song’s impact is not dependent upon the addition of oboe or second guitar. The titular track “This Old Dog” is a wonderful example of this, a proclamation to maybe a lover or maybe owner of a dog to their dog; its sentiment is mainly this world of duty and distraction may take parts of my attention but will not take me away. “For the First Time” is a funky slow jam, reminiscing on love in its infancy, another separation reference, “just like seeing her for the first time again,” we’ve been apart but are no longer. “Dreams for Yesterday” is another jam; live today, be here now, all that you’ve left is your fault, embrace your dreams, moments, loves, etc. This is a good album for these coming summer days with ideas of cocktails and hammocks and long walks.
Some albums benefit from the innovations of sound and stereo. Their Occult Architecture albums work best in full sprawl of sound. The sound is large, it is to feel inside the song as the roar and fog surround you. “Mirror’s Edge” is a psychedelic funk voyage, it is the the neon lights, the passing cars, the stars hidden by the glow of the downtown, it is the sound of the seduction of danger. “Lost In Light” is what the title suggests, it lifts and suspends you. All that will be is revealed, the voice an ethereal choir; why are my teeth chattering? “The Crystal World” is the helicopter ride, observe in wonder, then land, walk amongst it. Marvel at its glow and dance, the groove is effervescent.
“I broke my neck dancing to the edge of the world, babe.” Aldous Harding’s last album was once categorized as goth folk, and I don’t know what either of those things are, because the idea of creating an idea or purposely perpetuating an idea is crazy and only makes sense when attempting to make sense of it. The album Party does not need this simplification and in many ways cannot be simplified in that fashion. “Imagining My Man” was the first glimpse of this record for me, a love song, about love and all it’s scars and uncertainties, because essentially isn’t all imagination first, idealism? “All my life, I’ve had to fight to stay;” even as this lyric is punctuated by a “hey” that sounds like it came from a child’s choir, it still expresses love, but it proposes the actual and the imagined. “What If Birds Aren’t Singing They’re Screaming” isn’t dark in sound, but “I got high and thought I saw an angel, but it was just a ghost making wooden posts of my family” doesn’t exactly bring in the sunshine. But that is Harding’s lane, and it is a lane she plays superiorly. Brevity underscores the power; when it sets in, it’s over, and you have the space between songs to gather yourself. “I’m So Sorry” is another light beam, possibly about addiction. It contextualizes the life of dependency despite better judgement: “Everyone is looking on, why in the world would I risk this now.” It is the woozy thought, laid out on the floor burping up the whiskey, family and friends, audience, waiting for your arrival, you are not ready; “Freedom, balance, so many friends wish that for me.” The excellence of this album is the stillness, the calm. Throughout the many characters of the songs, Harding presents them as composed and resigned to this. “Horizon” is the retreat from love as rescue to the lover: “Here is your princess and here is the horizon.” You may feel that you want this, you do not know what this is. I am way into this album, it shakes my core.
“Aster,” the opener of Bill Mackay’s album, is all that this album is in 1 minute and 31 seconds. It is mystery, it is tradition, it is magic. Bill Mackay has created a superior guitar driven album in a time when music, ideas, people, have become disposable. Like many of the greats — Jack Rose, John Fahey, Glen Jones, Marisa Anderson — this album melds the ideas of tradition and the mystique of the unknown. “Candy” is a wonderful ragtime-y bluegrass-ish piece, but the expression and voice which Mackay brings are unrivaled. “Persona” is something else altogether, the picking juxtaposed by the winds of sound that decorate the song make this song as much highway as they are space and beyond. “Wail” is something of a ballad, it is a sunset or sunrise, it is long stare, it is the sheet on the clothesline blowing in the wind, it is life and emotion. This is one of those albums you live in and with, it becomes and embodies different things dependent upon setting and mood, but it wears each accordingly.