Ride--Weather Diaries

Considering Ride's fast and prolific early development, the museum phase that followed, and two decades of near silence, Weather Diaries isn't easy to separate from the history that led to it. Not wanting to pick up where they left off, Ride hoped to generate the positive energy they felt as they made second album Going Blank Again. Weather Diaries in turn sounds like the work of a version of Ride that perhaps vanished immediately after that set, with neither Carnival of Light nor Tarantula in their past. Much of Weather Diaries lyrically is unmistakably a 2017 work. In the first three songs, there are allusions to Brexit, a reference to an "acid sweating hunchback apparition" who "sets fire to your world," and the feeling of an "ill wind blowing." Later, there's some existentialism, suspicion in another setting that what's "too perfect" is a mirage, and a bit of reflection about the band's break and existence. There are also states of contentment and bliss to fill out an emotionally rounded group of songs that looks outward more often than any previous Ride release. Whether downcast or upbeat, drifting or driving, the songs levitate with those familiar sighing/soaring harmonies and cascading guitar lines, and a slight haze that coats almost everything, thickening only for a brief ambient instrumental. There are other flashes of the past, good and bad, from the spring-loaded rhythms to reminders of the sometimes vast qualitative disparity between their melodies and lyrics. Ultimately, compared to their 1996 sendoff, this is more like it. ~Andy Kellman, allmusic.com


Laura Marling-- Semper Femina

Semper Femina, a Latin phrase borrowed from Virgil translating roughly to "always a woman," was tattooed on Laura Marling's body long before it became the title of her sixth album. Like her adopted motto, this striking set gives the impression of a concept that was left to simmer a while before revealing itself in song. Initially intended as an exercise in writing about women from a male's perspective, Marling soon found that the feelings she was expressing were, in reality, her own, and Semper Femina became the work of a woman writing intimately about women. Crafted in her adopted home of Los Angeles and produced by Blake Mills (Alabama Shakes, Jim James), it's a wonder of musical subtlety, backing off from the cinematic electric desert-scapes of 2015's Short Movie and approaching the acoustic delicacy of earlier albums from a newfound perspective. A classic confessional songwriter, the British expat has found here the perfect balance of wounded introspection and confident observation, getting to the core of the matter with poetic candor on standouts like "The Valley" and the masterful "Next Time," the latter of which is easily one of the strongest cuts of her career. As with much of Marling's work, especially during her California period, the ghost of Joni Mitchell -- another transplanted flower who bloomed in Laurel Canyon -- can be heard on the richly melodic yet beautifully sparse fingerpicked ballad "Noell.". Having entered the limelight early, the 27-year-old singer/songwriter has now settled into a comfortable groove to on this finely honed career highlight. ~Timothy Monger, allmusic.com

Jason Isbell and the 400 Unit--The Nashville Sound

Jason Isbell took solo credit on his breakthrough albums Southeastern (2013) and Something More Than Free (2015), while 2017's The Nashville Sound is credited to Jason Isbell & the 400 Unit. Give the album a spin and it doesn't take long to figure out why. While this is as impressive a showcase for Isbell's talents as a songwriter and vocalist as his previous two albums, this set delivers a richer and more eclectic sound, and this time around, the performances matter just as much as the songs. The Nashville Sound is a less explicitly autobiographical album than Isbell's earlier releases, and the more varied tone of the ten tracks helps to emphasize the thematic strength of Isbell's storytelling, with the electric guitar work of Isbell and Sadler Vaden, the keyboards of Derry Deborja, and the violin of Amanda Shires lending these numbers a wide range of tones and moods. From the crashing dynamics of "Anxiety," the understated dread of "White Man's World," and the spare acoustic approach of "If We Were Vampires" to the guitar-fueled fury of "Hope the High Road," the New South vs. Old South rock of "The Cumberland Gap," and the bittersweet bluegrass-styled confessions of "Something to Love," this is a set of outstanding songs that registers as the work of a great band, as well as the craft of a world-class tunesmith. Isbell was already a gifted artist when he first gained public visibility with the Drive-By Truckers, but The Nashville Sound finds him growing from strength to strength, and it reaffirms his place as one of the best and most emotionally affecting artists working in roots music today. ~Mark Deming, allmusic.com

Paul Weller --A Kind Of Revolution

There's gentleness at the heart of the title A Kind Revolution, a suggestion that Paul Weller is getting softer as he approaches the age of 60. In 2017, he's still a few years away from that milestone but he's letting himself take things a little slower, absorbing the spaciness of 2015's Saturn's Pattern and reviving the sculpted soulful grooves of Wild Wood. This combination means A Kind Revolution feels straighter than any record Weller has released in the past decade -- in other words, anything he's done since he started his collaboration with Simon Dine, who acrimoniously parted after 2012's Sonik Kicks -- but where As Is Now hit hard, this has an easy touch even when the events kick off with the raver "Woo Sé Mama." This isn't the only time guitars are cranked on A Kind Revolution -- "Satellite Kid" descends into an extended jam -- but soul is Weller's guiding star on this record, leading him to the well-manicured upscale Boy George duet "One Tear" and the sharp funk of "She Moves with the Fayre," which features a cameo from Robert Wyatt. These guest appearances, particularly Wyatt's, suggest how Weller isn't content to settle into a familiar groove -- the lovely vocal harmonies on the closing "The Impossible Idea" are further indication of that -- but A Kind Revolution nevertheless feels cozy, a record designed to provide nothing but comfort and that's an unusual twist for Paul Weller.~Thomas Erlewine, allmusic


Cigaretts After Sex--Cigarettes After Sex

The music that Greg Gonzales and his fellow bandmates produce is slowcore in the extreme. The shimmering guitars, placid percussion, and wistfully delivered vocals also reveal their debt to dream pop and shoegaze. More than anything, early supporters of the band have praised Gonzales' unashamed sentimentality and dyed-in-the-wool romanticism. You don't have to venture beyond the opening track to experience his hazy passion. "K." recalls the early days of an affair with all the desperate adoration that engenders: "Holding you until you fall asleep/And it's just as good as I knew it would be/Stay with me/I don't want you to leave." The band often captures the nebulous nature of the beginning of a relationship through a dizzying, hypnotic mix of lightly administered instrumentation and Gonzales' deeply intimate vocals.  His restless pursuit of a lover in this sleepy gothic tale is claustrophobically intimate; his persistence feels like he's picking at a scab: "Kisses on the foreheads of the lovers wrapped in your arms/You've been hiding them in hollowed-out pianos left in the dark." Any connection to the joys of burgeoning romance is swiftly stripped of its dreamy naïveté by "Each Time You Fall in Love." It quite brutally dispels the myth of true love, describing it as "clearly not enough" and further arguing that "It isn't safe." Overall, chronically anti-romantic moments are eclipsed by sweet, somnambulant melodies that may not quicken the pulse but often hypnotize nevertheless. ~Bekki Bemrose, allmusic.com

Justin Townes Earle -- Kids In The Street

First of all, let us congratulate Justin Townes Earle for being one of the first songwriters to celebrate the humble but reliable Toyota in song. Sure, the Cadillac may have a more noble musical legacy, but in "Champagne Corolla," on 2017's Kids in the Street, Earle is eager to explain why the car (and especially the woman driving it) is worth a second glance. Second, let's note that "Champagne Corolla" is one of the very best rockers Earle has offered to date; the singer/songwriter is traditionally more comfortable with a subtle attack in the studio, but here he opens the album with a stompin' exercise in New Orleans-influenced R&B, and it connects solidly. As it turns out, rockers are in the minority on Kids in the Street, but "Short Haired Woman" and "15-25" show he can cut the same sort of groove when he feels like it, and Paul Niehaus' guitar and Scott Seiver's drumming do wonders to make these songs move. On much of the rest of Kids in the Street, Earle is in more subdued form, with a lower volume and more careful tempi, but this material truly confirms that he just keeps growing and improving as a songwriter.  As a vocalist, Earle is short on histrionics but he knows how to make his lyrics communicate, and he sounds as good as ever on these sessions, carefully shaping these tales with smart, subtle phrasing. Kids in the Street doesn't sound or feel like a masterpiece, but it does suggest Earle was aiming higher than expected for this album, and he hit the target -- this is among his very best work to date. ~Mark Deming, allmusic




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