Even without the knowledge that it was recorded with the same musicians as 2002's beloved Sea Change – or its widely circulated pre-release description as a "companion piece" to that record – Beck's new album all but demands a direct comparison. Album opener "Morning" is a dead ringer for Sea Change pace-setter "The Golden Age," with the same ambling lope (just a hair drowsier), a nearly identical, languidly strummed chord progression, and a correspondingly placid, glockenspiel-kissed riff. Rather than heralding the dawn of a shining new age, though, here our man is simply waking up; ruminating idly on regret and redemption: "Won't you show me the way it could have been?" runs the airy, aching falsetto chorus.
The somber black artwork of Somewhere Else is a far cry from the gasoline-swigging cartoon adorning Lydia Loveless' 2011 Bloodshot debut Indestructible Machine, perhaps suggesting some newfound mellowing or maturation – at the ripe old age of twenty-three – for the Ohio-bred hell-raiser. Maybe. Loveless jettisons her jet-fueled cowpunk and honky-tonk showboating here for a streamlined set of straight-up, rootsy rock'n'roll (capped, curiously, with a faithfully jangly Kirsty MacColl cover.) These songs, punchy as ever, don't lean quite so heavily on unhinged, whiskey-soaked abandon. Still, it takes mere seconds into rip-snorting opener "Really Wanna See You" before someone gives her some blow – inciting not a brawl but a wistful phone call – and the energy barely slackens from that point on, even through several bleary, heart-worn ballads, with Loveless' piercing, twang-heavy wail summoning Michelle Shocked, Steve Earle and Lucinda Williams at their raggedest. Only, where Williams couches a masturbation ode like "Right In Time" in sly, elegant poetry, Loveless lays it all out there on "Head." She can do poetry too – check "Verlaine Shot Rimbaud" – she just prefers the passion-streaked, doomed-romantic variety. [8/10]
Gem Club do write songs – stately, glacial melodies that Christopher Barnes delivers in a fragile, achingly tender head voice reminiscent of Sufjan Stevens at his gentlest. But they're such slow-moving, delicate things, so lovingly enveloped in layers of soft, symphonic texture – and their cumulative effect, on 2011's Breakers and even more so on the lusher, more expansive In Roses, is so cohesive and itself enveloping – that they barely register as songs per se, or even discrete entities. Appearances aside, the Somerville, MA trio's output feels less aligned with "chamber-pop" or even indie than the so-called "modern classical" new age music of Max Richter and Ólafur Arnalds; a transportive, fluidly orchestrated moodscape of dappled piano figures, synthesizer washes and swelling strings, horn and bell tones, with Barnes' voice, often layered in harmony with itself, forming a hushed highlight of the placid, snow-blind panorama that doesn't (and needn't) completely resolve into a focal point. [7/10]
Sun Kil Moon
Along The Way
All Love's Legal
*update: apparently it's pronounced "vintage nike." well all right!
Minutes of Sleep