I’m pretty worn out from divorce records this year, but Glen Phillips‘ Swallowed by the New is a divorce record so good that I’m breaking my moratorium on the form to tell you about it. Phillips is the former songwriter of Toad the Wet Sprocket who has turned himself into a songwriter approximately like Glen Hansard crossed with Alexi Murdoch while living in America. In other words, these are rich, fully-developed singer/songwriter songs that can be hushed or roaring with equal emotional impact.
The highlights of the record are the emotionally-wrung-out opener “Go,” the gospel-inflected major key of “Grief and Praise,” the Brill Building popcraft of “Reconstructing the Diary” and the stomping neo-blues rave-up that is “Held Up.” The rest of the tunes are strong as well, showing off Phillips’ oh-so-perfect vocal tone and smooth songwriting (“The Easy Ones,” “Baptistina,” “Leaving Oldtown”). The whole thing is about as warm and lovely as the thoroughly attractive album art. In other words, it doesn’t drag you through the dirt to get to the gold–at least, not too much.
1. “Moonshine” – Winnie Brave. If you generally like the things I post on this blog, you will almost certainly like this song: shuffle drums, strong female vocals, pedal steel, even tasty organ. But there’s no alt about this: this is straight-up country. Get on the train, friends. Jump on it. There’s no shame.
2. “Go” – Glen Phillips. There are few people who have two full careers in music in their lives, but Glen Phillips is closing in on it: having been one of the staples of the ’90s in Toad the Wet Sprocket, he has remade himself into a troubadour par excellence since then. This latest tune shows off his mastery of the nuanced vocal performance, satisfying arrangements, and enveloping moods. Just stellar stuff.
3. “Kool Aid” – The Lords of Liechtenstein. This chipper post-Dixieland major-key folk tune evokes contemporaries like Jonas Friddle and vintage performers. (The banjo and piano work together beautifully here.) The satirical lyrics extend the horrifying-situation-turned-metaphor “drinking the kool-aid” (apropos for our current era in many ways). The video drives home its political point even more clearly.
4. “She Got Time” – The Morning Yells. If there’s a point where Laurel Canyon country meets Bruce Springsteen-esque road-rockers, The Morning Yells were born on that spot. Throw in some Dawes for modernization (although Dawes is always looking back too), and you’ve got a breezy-yet-grounded track that’s tailor-made for a late-night drive up Pacific Coast 1.
5. “Heavy Eyes” – Palm Ghosts. I try to avoid the word “dreamy” because it’s so over-used, but this chilled-out tune feels genuinely like a dream: it feels totally concrete but also gauzy around the edges, sort of like there’s something just over the next ridge that will pop the bubble, but until then it’s all floating and hazy. That tension is impressive, and gives this indie-folk/indie-rock track a unique feel (even among all the “dreamy” work out there).
6. “Paint the Road” – Sierra Blanca. Sierra Blanca’s stately, engrossing “Paint the Road” made me think of John Denver’s endearingly earnest delivery, James Taylor’s gentle guitar delivery, and Simon’s subtle rhythmic elements. That’s pretty rarefied air, even decades after the high points for that trio.
7. “Northern Lights” – This Pale Fire. The subdued, even reverent murmur that is this track draws on excellent arranging and a great engineering job to create its beautiful, nuanced vibe.
8. “Thursday Lights” – Frozen Houses. This tune has both delicacy and density, as synths burble and dance in the background of this friendly, almost tropical acoustic-led piece.
Stephen Carradini and friends write reviews of bands that are trying to make the next step in their careers.