Album reviews: Father John Misty, Roger Daltrey, LUMP and more
In this week's roundup, Father John Misty takes a humble look at the times we live in, and Laura Marling partners up with Mike Lindsay
Father John Misty, God’s Favorite Customer
Download: Mr. Tillman, Just Dumb Enough To Try, Hangout At The Gallows, The Palace
Father John Misty wastes no time: He dropped Pure Comedy just one year ago, but planted the seed about another record around the time of release. But God’s Favorite Customer is nothing like his other works.
In his last three records he is perceived as an untouchable, immortal soul. His latest album is a humble look at the sign of the times we’re currently in – it’s more human than his past music has ever been. Instead, the “Father John Misty” persona seems as though it’s been tucked away and it’s Josh Tillman speaking. With his latest effort, Tillman finds himself at a crossroads – perhaps it has to do with the state of the world as we know it, but maybe he’s ready to be “Josh Tillman”... or someone else.
Unlike I Love You, Honeybear and Pure Comedy, which were rooted in performativity, God’s Favorite Customer is sincere, raw and melancholy. In opener “Hangout At The Gallows”, Tillman sings, “I’m treading water as I bleed to death,” as if the album is his last-ditch effort for survival. Fans will likely see allusions to Fear Fun, where the reality of repercussions exist. Lead single “Mr. Tillman” acts as a haunting lullaby that ends up as an existential crisis.
One of the most honest moments is “The Songwriter”, which appears to be directed towards his wife, reflecting on their time together and taking accountability for what has happened to their relationship. “Goodbye little songbird, now you’re free,” he muses.
In one of the most pop-centric tracks on the record, “Disappointing Diamonds Are Rarest Of Them All” Tillman reveals his frustrations about love, asking, “Does everybody have to be the greatest story ever told?” If there was ever any doubt about whether or not Tillman could pull off this kind of candour on a Father John Misty record, God’s Favorite Customer should quash those reservation with his unwavering honesty. Ilana Kaplan
Natalie Prass, The Future and the Past
Download: Lost, The Fire, Short Court Style, Nothing To Say
Natalie Prass’s highly anticipated return has been a long time in the making. Back in 2016, the Richmond-based singer-songwriter had a record already written, but opted to scrap it following the presidential election. Instead she conceived a whole new album that breeds optimism instead of melancholy.
With her reconfigured record, Prass found herself exploring new sonic territory, experimenting with Nineties R&B and disco-funk – something that stemmed from working with collaborators of Solange, Blood Orange and Carly Rae Jepsen. She made certain to make a standout introduction with lead single “Short Court Style” – a disco-infused gem channelling Control-era Janet Jackson.
Prass followed her simmering lead single with the gospel choir-backed “Sisters” as an ode to female empowerment singing on the chorus, “I wanna say it loud/ For all the ones held down/We gotta change the plan/ Come on nasty women.” Despite toying with different genre, the ethos of Prass’ self-titled debut album is weaved throughout the record.
Tracks like “Lost” – a hymnal love song meditating on the realisation that sometimes love isn’t enough – and “The Fire” – a seductive number featuring Prass’s scintillating vocals – are reminders that Prass is only building on her roots. The Future and the Past is a journey of self-discovery brimming with hope and grooves made to help Prass and her listeners find optimism. Instead of focusing on the blistering negativity seeping through the world right now, Prass’s dancey defiance is the answer we need to fight off the sources evil. Ilana Kaplan
Neko Case, Hell-On
Download: Winnie, Hell-On, Pitch or Honey, Gumball Blue
In her first record in half a decade, Neko Case found solace in her own personal hell. During the recording of Hell-On, she received a terrifying call in the middle of the night that her house was on fire and would likely be destroyed. Just a few hours after the fire, she went to record vocals for her track “Bad Luck” – lines that she had written long ago that felt timely given her situation. “It’s not as bad as I thought it would be/ But it’s still pretty bad luck.”
Despite her life circumstances, Case’s longtime audience will find her latest project familiar and welcoming. Full of eccentric pop melodies and gothic country odes, Case’s first self-produced album remains fascinating and deeply creative. Her previous work often resonated as sparse, Americana melodies, but her eighth studio album hones in on cinematic arrangements.
The songwriting on Hell-On aches, uncomfortably at times. “I miss the smell of mystery/ Reverb leaking out of tavern doors and not knowing how the sounds are made/ So I left home and faked my ID/ I f***ed every man that I wanted to be,” she sings on “Curse of the I-5 Corridor,” a song so visceral it transports you into Case’s world.
The singer-songwriter recruits a slew of collaborators and backup vocalists including Beth Ditto, Kelly Hogan and Nora O’Connor who blend seamlessly with Case herself, especially on the sprawling “Winnie.” “Sleep All Summer,” which features Archers of Loaf frontman Eric Bachmann brings his harsh vocals to the forefront of the track, which unfortunately make it challenging for Case to stand out. But it’s a small flaw in a gorgeously curated record that reveals Case is never really done reinventing herself. Ilana Kaplan
Download: Late To The Flight, Rolling Thunder, Curse of the Contemporary
A chance meeting at a Neil Young concert has brought Laura Marling and Mike Lindsay together for one of 2018’s most intriguing collaborations. Fans of each other’s work, Lindsay met Marling backstage in the summer of 2016 following her support slot with Young.
One of the founding members of acid-folk band Tunng, Lindsay had already been working for months on creating an ambitious and experimental new “sound cycle”. In need of a lyricist and vocalist, his fortuitous introduction to Marling led to a meeting of minds; within days, Marling was recording vocals at Lindsay’s subterranean studio in London, and project LUMP was born.
Lindsay’s complex instrumental layering impresses; the heaviness of drones and wonky guitars is balanced well against the lightness of flutes, trippy Moog keyboards and wistful strings. Lindsay’s soundscape is dense and at times deliberately chaotic, but it proves an apt backdrop for an album exploring the complexity of individualism in the modern age.
Marling’s soaring voice brings the reason to Lindsay’s chaos while her lyrics examine our warring private and public personas at a time when the world around us often feels empty and void. Inspired by 20th century surrealism together with the absurdist poetry of Edward Lear and Ivor Cutler, Marling’s compelling narrative delves into the commodification of our public personalities and the manifold ways we try to escape the mundaneness of our everyday selves.
The cyclic nature of the tracks bleeding into one another creates a coherent narrative amidst the chaos. “Curse of the Contemporary” is a breezy journey of a song whose lightness often disguises its darker themes. “What have we become?” Marling wails as she explores the performativity of identities in a world that forces us to be something we’re not.
“Hand Hold Hero” is a trippy blend of Eighties synth pop alongside darker folk melodies. While it’s one of the most interesting songs on the album, it feels a little out of place next to the much dreamier “Late To The Flight”, yet it’s the natural companion to the earlier, trippier “Rolling Thunder”. The songs often follow this pattern of harmony and disorder as the two navigate different ideas of the self.
Both artists sound far more liberated here than on each of their separate solo projects; it’s a collaboration many will want to continue. Elizabeth Aubrey
Roger Daltrey, As Long as I Have You
Download: Certified Rose, Always Heading Home, Into My Arms, Out of Sight Out of Mind
In 2014, Who legend Roger Daltrey teamed up with Wilco Johnson to make a soul record, Going Back Home. “It felt good playing the stuff we used to play,” Daltrey said of the experience, an album recorded at the height of Johnson’s serious illness. Putting life into stark perspective, Daltrey said the “magic” of the experience and Johnson’s subsequent recovery was profound, particularly in terms of reflection and in wanting a return to simper, pre-Who times.
Free from the constraints of The Who’s back catalogue, Daltrey’s latest is inspired both by the early soul and blues his collaboration with Johnson drew on, as well as the music of his youth. As a teenager, Daltrey would finish work at a metal factory in Shepherds Bush before heading out to local record shops in search of Northern soul, blues and gospel records; at the weekend, Daltrey would cover them in local church halls.
Daltrey’s ninth and latest album, As Long as I Have You is one of the most interesting of his solo adventures. Taking the early records that influenced him prior to The Who’s successes together with influences since, the result is largely a covers album with music spanning eight decades. There are self-penned tracks too, including “Certified Rose” which Daltrey originally wrote for his daughter and a new ballad, “Always Heading Home”.
Whilst Pete Townshend plays guitar on several tracks, his appearance never overshadows or detracts from Daltrey. Complimented by excellent keys from Dexy’s Mick Talbot and Sean Genockey on lead guitar, its Daltrey’s voice which still impresses the most as he skilfully navigates a range of characters and personas.
A cover of Nick Cave’s “Into My Arms” is one of the album’s highlights, with Daltrey’s mature voice imbuing the song with new emotional poignancy. Daltrey sung the track in the register of Johnny Cash, seemingly aiming to lean towards Cash’s work on the Rick Rubin produced American IV: The Man Comes Around. In places it comes close, but sometimes lacks the grit and darkness of both the Cash and the Cave original.
“Out of Sight Out of Mind” – a song originally performed in the 1940s by Rudy West and the Five Keys – stands out with its slower tempo and excellent brass section. “How Far” is probably the most Who-sounding track on the album; it’s one of the album’s strongest and fits well alongside a cover of Dusty Springfield’s “Where is A Woman To Go”, The Who having supported Springfield on tour in 1964.
With Daltrey suffering from a serious illness himself midway through this recording (the singer had a meningitis infection), this is an affecting album of reflection, survival and celebration. Elizabeth Aubrey
Jamie Isaac, (4:30) Idler
Download: Counts for Something, Wings, Slurp, Interlude (Yellow Jacket)
Following on from his well-received debut album Couch Baby, Jamie Isaac returns with follow-up (4:30) Idler featuring an uplifting bossa nova-inspired number that sets the tone for his silky, electronic storytelling. The Brit School alum may not want to be branded as a romantic, but you can’t help but pick up on the vulnerable romance in “Doing Better” as he croons: “Softer now, think I’m ready/ So thinking twice she held me steady.”
“Wings” is the perfect opener where Isaac sotto voce’s about his personal growth. Fused with intricate piano melodies and soft, layered vocals, the track takes on a mood that is pure and fresh; the musical polymath’s airy vocals adding sparkle to an otherwise-chilled record.
Of course, he returns to his choirboy roots, breaking up the album nicely with “Interlude (Yellow Jacket)” where his stunning falsetto vocals, accompanied with emotive delicate piano, really shine. “Counts for Something” offers a moment of clarity with its stuttering beats, providing a chilled, hip-hop ambience similar to J Dilla, with the soft vocal tones of Chet Baker or Jamie Woon. It’s a cosy record, clean, and good for the soul. Jessica Morgan