Something’s always seemed a bit off to me about these guys. They appeal immediately, but something seems a little too…polished or processed or something. Kind of like a Hootie & The Blowfish or Counting Crows phenomenon. It felt like appropriated bluegrass chewed up Momma Bird style for British and Northern-U.S. consumption. That vibe continues here; I really like this album, but I feel a little dirty for doing so.
I’m not the first critic to point out that the big difference between this album and its predecessors is that this one is less fiddle-heavy, less acoustic, more electric. I think there are even drum machines in a couple of tracks, like “Tompkins Square Park” and “Wilder Mind.” As a result, the album is more open, there’s more space, as they’re content to let the sustain on these instruments hold out a little more. There’s less of a jackrabbit, virtuosic, fill-every-second vibe.
There isn’t a bad track here. The disc opens with “Tompkins Square Park,” which is basically like the perfect Mumford & Sons song, with a gorgeous intro, lovely verses, and a build into a powerfully emotional chorus. “Only Love” takes that kind of formula to the next level, which is to say a touch over the top. It’s fantastic, but it’s impossible to listen to and not see it as the background to the sad break-up and/or get-back-together scenes in a Jennifer Aniston rom com, with a montage of sad sack lonely go-about-your-day shots like leaning your head against the subway window, walking around a corner, or brushing your teeth, all while looking wistfully into the distance. In fact, if it doesn’t end up as the background to some scene like that I will be amazed. I never see images when I listen to music, so when I get them that strongly and specifically I have to assume it was basically written for that.
The album’s basically flawless, which is kind of my main criterion for a five clown album. But with a couple of weaker tracks, relatively speaking, like “Just Smoke” and “Monster,” I’d maybe usually slap a strong 4.5 clowns on it and feel good about that. But, again, there’s just something that’s a little too … clean about this. I really like it, but I feel kind of like a soccer mom who buys a CD every three years for doing so. Not that there’s anything wrong with that, it’s just a long way from my self-image.
I don’t know, maybe there is something wrong with it, and that’s why I’m lowering its rating (to a still very very good four clowns, though). Who knows? But this is where I am in August of 2015.
Mix: “Tompkins Square Park”
Really Like: “The Wolf,” “Ditmas,” “Only Love,” “Hot Gates”
Like: “Believe,” “Wilder Mind,” “Just Smoke,” “Monster,” “Snake Eyes,” “Broad-Shouldered Beasts,” “Cold Arms”
Song Notes: After the jump
- Tompkins Square Park – wow, a drum machine
- Believe –
- The Wolf – I sing along with the “baying for blood” line every time. It’s so perfectly done.
- Wilder Mind – Close to RL. That’s gotta be a drum machine.
- Just Smoke –
- Monster –
- Snake Eyes –
- Broad-Shouldered Beasts –
- Cold Arms –
- Ditmas –
- Only Love – this is so totally a movie song
- Hot Gates – hymn-y, Southern