Posts Tagged ‘AOR’

Leah Senior

Capturing the sun-faded ease of the ‘70s has become a bit of a genre unto itself of late. From Drugdealer and Weyes Blood, to Foxygen and The Lemon Twigs, there are plenty who seek to hitch their hammock in the light of post-Laurel Canyon vibes of reclusive solitude and worn-leather comfort. For her third record on Flightless, Leah Senior lets slip out another entry to that canon, and one that’s quite a welcome addition. She’s been no stranger to folk that leans towards the macrame decade as she’s been simmering low-key among the less ferocious names on the Aussie imprint’s roster. She’s played the troubadour aptly. Yet, with The Passing Scene, she’s found a new niche between confessional poetics and a lusher sound that pulls her off of the solo stool and into a studio sound that conjures thick wood panels, tapestry draped lamps, and a soft curlicue of smoke rising from behind the glass. There’s a verdant wooded aura to the record that taps into not only the Valley’s lineage but the valley itself.

Lyrically the album hits on some of the same imagery that would have marked her ‘70s influences, from the lovelorn dreaming of Baez and Mitchell, to the sunset sighs of Sweet Baby James and the slightly religious psychedelia of Judee Sill. In fact, the latter feels like she has a large thumbprint in Senior’s songwriting, merging an often reclusive personal nature with a clear talent for orchestrations that makes her songs soar much further than the studio walls. Like Sill, no matter how well-crafted the trappings around her, Senior’s voice remains the magnetic draw, and she uses it well to form an album that’s drawing her out as an artist to keep tabs on. Between this and the excellent album from Grace Cummings, it seems that loudness and Lizards aren’t all that Flightless has going for it.



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Drugdealer

The second LP from Michael Collins under the Drugdealer moniker refines, redecorates, and relaxes in the studio-rat 70’s foxhole he’d dug for himself on his debut. After his psych soft launches in Run DMT and Salvia Plath, Drugdealer has become Collins’ haven for outsized ‘70s pop and he’s attracted similar-minded slick travelers and psychedelic savants to come and lay their lacquered licks, honeyed vocals, and perfectly coifed contributions onto his pop vision. So, naturally, frequent collaborator and fellow master of ‘70s AOR brilliance Natalie Mering (Weyes Blood) drops in for a vocal contribution on “Honey.” Harley Hill-Richmond (Harley and the Hummingbird) adds a Laurel Canyon sunset to “Lonely” and country crooner Dougie Poole shifts “Wild Motion” into a down gear that freezes the album’s honey into an amber-hued heirloom that almost pops it into a permanent soft-focus time delay.

Collins’ dedication to a more opulent time in pop music is admirable if also indulgently nostalgic. Songs like “Lost In My Dream,” with their horn stabs and hammock sway could easily hang with contemporary(ish) travelers like Sloan or Jenny Lewis. Those artists have found their footing in lush productions that tend to feel timeless, but despite protestations Drugdealer almost always conjures up the past. There’s a feeling that you’ve heard Collins’ songs somewhere before, but the exact names seem lost in a wood-paneled labyrinth of memories that keep the references from pushing just past the tip of your tongue. Still, if Collins and his crew weren’t so good at what they do, they wouldn’t be able to pull it off at all.

Aside from his kindred spirit Mering, Collins has been in the orbit of Ariel Pink (who doesn’t show up his time around) and Mac Demarco, who finds his way behind the boards to give the album its late-night luster. The spirit of all of those artists has long been to whittle their own images out of vintage wood and with Raw Honey Drugdealer is proving to be a contender among any of them. But for an album that’s dressed up as the kind of studio campout that Brian Wilson once shepherded, the record could use just a little tightening at the seams. It often feels like a soundtrack with some truly golden cuts sprinkled in, but it also chafes in the same way. Collins is becoming more confident as the focus of his albums, but he still hands over the reigns a bit too often to guest vocalists. It would be great to keep the momentum built through the run of songs 2-6, or even go all-in on a full collaboration between Drugdealer and Weyes Blood. The future will tell what’s next, but for now Raw Honey offers up some future lost classics drifting on a sea of AM static.



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Pat Thomas – “The Money Guys”

Told you it was a good time for the Bay this week, and here comes your next reason. Cool Ghouls have consistently stunned with their catalog of country-curled psych rock, with not a bummer in the bunch of their three albums. Now the band’s Pat Thomas is striking out on his own and tucking into the AOR shimmer of the ‘70s. He heralds his upcoming sophomore solo LP, I Ain’t Buyin’ It, with the golden glow of “The Money Guys.” The track hinges on the soft-focus horns and cellophane riffs that tied Chicago, The Doobies Bros. and Steely Dan together with late period Tim Buckley.

The track takes down economic inequality and does it while wearing boat shoes. It’s a ‘70s lounge jam critical of the man as played from the hired piano of venture capitalists’ own yachts. No one’s paying attention at the party so you might as well spite ‘em, eh? I’m eager to see where Pat takes the sound on this, too much of a plunge through ‘70s cheese could sink into pastiche, but if he keeps striking a balance between smooth strings and an acid tongue, then it could soar above easy listening.



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The Cairo Gang

Emmet Kelly puts on a half-cocked smile for his latest, Untouchable. The album’s a sunnier side of The Cairo Gang, but not without a heart melted by melancholy. While the melancholy isn’t unusual in his work, the shiny veneer certainly is. The closest he’s come to some of the breezy moments heard here was back in the days of Tiny Rebel‘s ’60s pop inflections. Though on that one he found the dark heart of the 12-string jangle, balancing any sweet moments with the deep darkness inherit in a cover of Boys Next Door’s “Shivers.” On the contrary here, he’s embracing a ’90s borne indie sound that pays it’s debt to James, Matthew Sweet, Teenage Fanclub and The Lemonheads. In fact the Matthew Sweet sip runs twofold, because while Kelly certainly finds himself indebted to Sweet’s songwriting, he’s taking a bite out of the great Robert Quine’s guitar flash. The latter is almost certainly one of the key ingredients in Sweet’s most enduring catalog.

What’s also glaringly apparent about Untouchable is that it’s embraced album oriented rock full tilt, and partially that’s why I’ve been hard pressed to combat this record on a singles basis. Untouchable is not just a collection of tracks, it’s a balance of emotions with the kind of ebb and flow that’s meant to be digested as a whole, not in mere bites. If 2017 has proven anything, it’s that while the majority of listeners have embraced compartmental music and the infinite playlist, a large portion of smaller label releases have striven to create albums that can’t be broken down.

Kelly is an indispensable part of the indie rock pantheon, adding his guitar to more albums than you probably know in your collection (Ty Segall, Bonnie ‘Prince’ Billy, Joan of Arc, Magic Trick, The Double) but he shines as a frontman. The Cairo Gang have long been that band bubbling in the background, crafting solidly built albums that trade in ennui like spiritual currency. It’s hardly surprising to get another winner from Kelly, but that doesn’t mean it’s any less deserving of praise. Though the covers change, the fractured heart that beats beneath Kelly’s songs remains ever the same.


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