Feature:

A step outside

New releases, 27/03

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words by tom johnson

I’ve spent the week waiting for an email that chose not to reference our current predicament. Alas, the world has changed so drastically that there’s suddenly little else to take about, even with those we’re locked away with, even when looking for something else. Sometimes it feels like a dream, often it feels like waking up from a terrible one, a shadow that lingers just out of view, leaking into everything we do. There’s no distraction too large, no focus too small. 

It’s a small blessing then that today this new world we’re stuck within shifts, just a little, to be gently illuminated by several albums that are released into it today. Whether you’re struggling to be productive, or suddenly so productive that you need something to pull you away, there will be a new collection of songs here that act like a balm, diversions from the scenery, the windows and walls, just the same, just the same.

Katie Crutchfield has long been a songwriter that can transcend, the releases under her Waxahatchee title drifting between acts of personal prowess and things altogether more ambiguous. There’s magic in all of it though, and new album Saint Cloud feels perhaps both her most rounded and enchanting thus far. It is stormy, but mostly placed in the quiet after the storm (not out in it); a lone figure stood in the kind of quiet soft light that allows us to look at ourselves with the utmost honesty.

The songs here leap out of that introspection, thanks mostly to Crutchfield’s use of place, that resonates so beautifully throughout it feels like you’ve been thrown into a photo album from days you long left behind. Where that introspection always spilt out in the form of angst, here it just feels remarkably graceful. The one-two of Arkadelphia and Ruby Falls, especially, is something truly special. The former takes its name from a street in her hometown and is filled with the kind of solitude scraped from the fallout of the great American dream.

I hold on tight, come in from far
I watch the baby run around the yard
Get lonely for what I’ll never know
Losing the thread of a story, overtold

That stunning sense of sadness, transfixing in its candour, drifts into the following track too, thick but unnoticeable, like fog into fog:

And when the picture fades, the years will make us calm
I’ll sing a song at your funeral
Laid in the Mississippi gulf
Or back home at Waxahatchee creek
You know you got a friend in me 

In any circumstances, Saint Cloud should be held aloft as a remarkable piece of work. In these strange and terrifying days, it feels almost supernatural, grounded only by the weight of its very heavy human heart.  

Elsewhere, Nandi Rose expands her Half Waif project into its boldest form yet, lifting the traced lines of what’s come before and filling them all with exquisite colour. A gorgeous swelling of synths, tender beats, and her somewhat operatic voice, the first half of The Caretaker is mesmerising pop music, the little production oddities giving it a real sense of personality and purpose. The second half of the record shifts somewhat, franker, more forthright, it strips much of that colour back, presenting itself only in black-and-blue, for a run of sincere ballads the power of which lingers long after it all fades to grey. 

The new Margaret Glaspy record, Devotion, begins with a distorted vocal wrapped in white noise, though that cherished voice soon breaks through the clouds, the weight of that introduction instantly unsettles. This is not Emotion & Math Pt.II, this is something new, intoxicating and immersive, a bold stride into the unknown. It’s a path often taken, that shift from indie-rock guitars to synth-led pop, but it takes a precious vision to pull it off so resolutely, and Glaspy has always occupied a creative space all of her own and it’s hard to imagine a time when exploring that won’t be anything other than beautifully fascinating.  

We first covered Dana Gavanski when we fell into the transfixing pool of tender demos back in the summer of 2017. The passing of time, and the measured dashes of musical heft she’s added to her sound, has done little to dilute that magic and her debut album is a spellbinding collection. With a cadence that simmers with Sibylle Baier’s undecorated delivery, ‘Yesterday Is Gone’ is a wonderful end-of-winter retreat. 

For all of the bursting colour of its cover art, Jennah Barry’s Holiday LP is sumptuous Americana, the subtle sway of its opening track indicative of the soft charm found throughout. Suitably solemn, every little moment of brightness is matched by a half-buried sadness, such is the ballad’s way. A lovely, lasting voice that can change the shape of a day. 

I’ve always found Nap Eyes to be at their most compelling when they’ve balanced their energetic playfulness with a sense of mundanity, where they draw great life out of lifelessness. Thankful, then, to find that one of the great guitar bands of their time, introduce their new album with the wonderfully weary ‘So Tired’, a drawn-out jam that could be an anthem for these listless days: 

I’m so tired of proving it to you
That I’ve been mired in the same deluge as you
When I feel inspired But a moment later forget what I’m trying to do
I’ve been tired, so tired, of trying to get through to you 

Alongside such big-hitters, it’s Jordana’s Classical Notions of Happiness that sits as the hidden gem, a modest sparkle buried within a week of gold. It categorises itself as ‘experimental pop’ but there’s a reverent quality to these songs that shifts the weight to something more homely, earthy than that. Most of the songs fade-out around the two-minute mark but the quiet power of them keeps you gripped throughout. It’s a re-release so make sure not to miss this once again. Second chances don’t come around very often.

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