One of my top anticipated albums of the year, Jenny Lewis always seems to write the kind of songs that I need to hear at the time I hear them, and The Voyager is no exception. Produced by one of my all-time favorite artists, Ryan Adams, the album is completely Jenny’s, which impresses me that Ryan was able to touch and guide, without making it sound like his own. The album spans a wide array of emotions and musical genres, waxing lyrically about biological clocks, hand jobs, break-ups, marriage, infidelity, and the impact life has on a life – all of it weaved through with pop culture references and stories that feel like mini musical books sang aloud.
There is struggle within these songs, reality checks and reflected regrets, and a peeled back honesty that is something I’ve come to expect from Jenny’s songwriting. There is jadedness here, too, a world-weariness tucked behind the bright colors and lilting sounds. I know Jenny has spoken about loss and sleeplessness, which you can feel within these songs, as well. All that said, there is still the paint dripped remnants of hope here, and a female commoradarie that is something I wasn’t sure I needed, but I do.
The female lens is definitely what this album was created through, something that is more than a little unheard of in rock music. Many of these songs speak candidly of the feminine experience, and not in the “he’s cheating on me/he doesn’t notice me/he completes me” kind of way, no it isn’t about any “he’s” at all. No, it is more on the lines of an Exile to Guyville grown-up. Whether to marry or not marry, to have a baby or not, to be monogamous, to compromise, to believe in love, or not – these are some of the topics discussed through songs. There is the dissection of the “cool girl” myth in Just One of the Guys, which reminds me of a diary-rant via Amy from the book Gone Girl (Gillian Flynn) where she debunks the cool girl as being an act performed to please a “he”. The whole idea of being “just one of the guys” is insulting really, as if there is such a difference between genders, and as if the male is preferable, and worth aspiring towards.
My initial listen favorite is Late Bloomer, a story told in song about a girl named Nancy who is older and world wise and full of adventure, and how the protagonist of this song looks up to her, follows her, and falls for her. Nancy takes the girl under her wing in an attempt of opening life to her, calling her a “late bloomer”. They take off after a songwriter, a hero of Nancy’s, or really, an obsession. Said obsession turns out to be less than impressive to the protagonist, and more of a source of jealousy. Eventually they all part ways, but the story gives such a slice of life moment, one that resonates on so many emotional levels. It reminds me of Tori Amos’ Baker Baker, Rilo Kiley’s A Man/Me/Than Jim, and many of Bob Dylan’s songs.
Love U Forever is another initial favorite. At first blush it seems like a love song, a forever kind of love song at that, the kind to play at weddings, the kind to deem “our song“. The more you listen though, the more surfaces you peel pack and tear away, the song reveals the often unavoidable evolution of a marriage. The initial “meet cute” of two who were not on the same page and then suddenly were, the excitement of saving the date and tying the knot, and then the years, some easy, some hard, some full of transgressions and temptations. This has an 80’s pop feel to it, which adds to the delusion that this is a happy song, when really it isn’t (like these lyrics: But there are some things money cannot say/like the feeling of hell in a hallway).
Just One of the Guys is another song that has a feel good vibe to it, and even the tongue in cheek, gender swapping video suggests lightness. But, this is anything but light. A song that deals with aging as a woman, the “biological clock” deadline, the struggle to be any certain way as a woman, as a peer, as a person. She’s Not Me is another sweet sounding loaded tune, one that most people can relate to, especially in the era of being able to peer into ex-lovers lives via social media. Finding someone you loved once married and “on the surface” happy can sometimes be hard to take, and I think the kindest trick we play is to think “she (or he) is not me, she (or he) is easy” – meaning that we are complicated, and challenging, but worth the fight. There is also a very recognizable pang of regret, especially in the second verse which addresses the screw ups that led to the ex being with someone else now. It can be painful to see where we messed up, and what we lost because of it.
All in all, the only negative I would have to say about this album is that it is over too quickly. By the time the album title song, The Voyager (a beautiful song that brings tears to my eyes for some reason), I feel so swept up in the album, and was not ready for it to be the last song. I wish there was at least three more songs – maybe that’s just me.
She’s Not Me
I had been loving Rebel since I stumbled upon it recently, and have been replaying it over and over, so I was excited to see that there was a full-length album to go along with it. You Were the Fire is a very Los Angeles sounding album. I can hear the city in it, the mountains, the ocean and the personalities in the songs. Songs like Wrong and Rebel, they remind me of the suburbs I grew up in, and the places I chased after, be it Hollywood or Venice Beach, or someone’s house in Silver Lake, I can feel the memories in the songs, the mood, the feelings. Its hard to articulate exactly, its more of a sensory reaction, but it does connect me with the album near immediately.
Beyond my already love of Rebel, my first listen to the album favorite is Late Night Everythings. This has a Death Cab For Cutie/Postal Service feel to it, and is very much an up all night, middle of the night song. This is a song for being haunted by someone you have yet to let go of kind of song, the song that persists way past the expiration date of mourning over a break-up, those feelings that you have not let go of yet, but keep to yourself. They creep up in the middle of the night, and this is the song that tries to offer companionship, understanding and as the song progresses, tries to cheer you as you lay there alone, still loving a ghost of once was, with a song to keep you carrying on.
Long West brings a little Seventies rock and a little bit of twangy/alt country to the table, mixing and matching their sensibilities together, creating a song that I want to drive through Laurel Canyon at 2am listening to. This one might actually be my real favorite of the album – its really growing on me.
This is one of those albums I am not going to be able to get enough of – I can already tell.
A collection of amazing musical artists all joined up to bring to life an “album” that was originally released as a book of sheet music, Song Reader is a stunning collaboration that feels like one hell of a mixed tape put together by someone with that great kind of eclectic taste. As I sit here listening, finding myself carving out different scenes and stories as each song turns into another, I think it could also be a soundtrack for an interesting anthology cinematic series.
My first listen favorite? This is a hard one as there are so many great tracks, and so many amazing artists to choose from. If pressed, I’d have to say its the Tweedy track, The Wolf is on the Hill, but that could because I’ve been in a huge Wilco mood as of late. The Bob Forrest track, Saint Dude, is great, too. It reminds me a little of Grant Lee Buffalo and Elvis Costello (sound wise), and a little of “The Dude” from The Big Lebowski (lyric wise).
Jack White’s I’m Down is pretty damn amazing, too. I love the saloon style sound to it, and the witty lyrics that accompany. It brings to mind Ghost Towns and Death Valley, side of the road Truck Stop postcards and too warm beer.
Beck’s track, Heaven’s Ladder, is Sea Change dreamy, and Laura Marling’s Sorry is anything but something to be sorry for. Oh my stars, and Eyes That Say “I Love You”, by Jarvis Cocker, is fucking fantastic. Honestly, it is near impossible to single out a favorite on this album.
Honestly, this is like the best book of short stories you have read — in song.
Heaven’s Ladder (live) :: Beck
So much Lo-Fi goodness in an album that caught me completely off-guard. I had no idea what to expect, but I did not expect to be this swept away, that’s for certain. There is something about this album that reminds me of how I felt the first time I heard Stone Roses, which is a pretty big thing to say.
Each and every song on this album soars, and are each strong enough to stand on their own and still make you feel like you are aurally flying through the bluest of skies. The title song, Racy, gives me chills listening to it, the way Band of Horses’ Funeral and Blonde Redhead’s 23 both did the first time I heard them. I want to run away with this song, driving together up the coast, stopping at every “view spot” that overlooks the ocean to just stare off into, together, me and this song.
Happening reminds me of some of the electo-rock/new wave music from the mid-90’s, think The Sun Always Shines on TV from A-Ha, Life in a Northern Town by Dream Academy and lots of OMD.
Keys is hypnotic and the one on the album I want to play as loud as my ears can take in the car. It is a definite add to future playlists, one of those songs that I want everyone to hear.
Noah Heroux’s voice is incredible, lush and dream-weaving and addictive. Do yourself a favor and pick up this album and see which song you’d like to run away with?
The first track, American Dream Plan B may be my favorite track, but that may be because it already has me hooked, and wanting to dance around, before I’ve had the chance to listen to the rest of the album. That’s always a strong way to start, isn’t it? Hooking you in from the first guitar licks. What I love from the start is a song sensibility that makes me wonder if Jack White had a hand in any of the production.
The next track doesn’t fall flat, or let go of the hook the album already has on me. What I love about the second song, Fault Lines, is that it has a youthful energy, but not one that negates the seasoned life and history Tom Petty and his Heartbreakers bring. You can hear the age in Tom’s vocals, but that isn’t a bad thing, in fact, it adds more complexity to the song, it richens it.
Red River reminds me of Zombie Zoo (from Full Moon Fever), and Walls (from the She’s the One soundtrack). I love the storytelling here, the character details, the way it is brought to life, vividly, in my imagination.
This album makes me want to do a Tom Petty Appreciation/Quintessential post soon.