A little over a month into 2012 and great new albums seem to be a-popping up all over the shop, something arriving in the post every day almost that either thrills or beguiles, demanding our attention and more often than not handsomely rewarding it.
Leonard Cohen’s Old Ideas was rightly applauded in last month’s Uncut, and in the current issue similar praise is lavished on Lambchop’s Mr M, which reminds us why we have loved them for so long and also what it was in the first place that got us so excited about Kurt Wagner’s Nashville country-soul collective.
When I see something referred to as a ‘return to form’, I usually can’t control an impulse to wince uncomfortably. But Mr M is quietly glorious in the ways Nixon was, and in all its most endearing respects is quite the best thing Wagner’s done since that earlier career peak.
There are also four star reviews in the issue for Mark Lanegan’s impressive Blues Funeral, and the new album from a less familiar name – Anais Mitchell, whose brilliant Young Man In America, the follow-up to 2010’s Hadestown, is located in a mythical American landscape comparable to the allegorical frontiers of Dylan’s John Wesley Harding, with added fiddles and mandolins.
I’ve already written about the new Simone Felice album, due out next month, and Craig Finn’s first solo album, Clear Heart Full Eyes has turned out to be a slow-burning treasure, his temporary break from The Hold Steady clearly a liberating influence on his song-writing.
Elsewhere, I’ve been enjoying notable debut albums from Beth Jeans Houghton and Django Django, First Aid Kit’s The Lion’s Roar, Andrew Bird’s Break It Yourself, and I’m kicking myself for only just catching up with Sharon Van Etten’s Tramp, a tardy response to a terrific record.
I have John’s Wild Mercury Blog to thank for alerting me to one of my current favourite records – Elephant Micah’s Louder Than Thou, a record that had been recommended to John by MC Taylor of Hiss Golden Messenger. Taylor apparently found comparisons between Louder Than Thou and the John Martyn of Inside Out and Richard & Linda Thompson. John heard something of Will Oldham on the album, which also reminded me in parts of Neil Young – a hint here of Harvest, a glowering suggestion there of On The Beach.
Another small gem that reached me last week was the debut album by another unfamiliar name, the eponymous debut of Sweet Lights. Turns out Sweet Lights is Shai Halperin [pictured], who played guitar alongside Kurt Vile and Adam Granduciel in an early line-up of The War On Drugs – “a brief Clapton/Page/Beck-like period” in that band’s history, as the press release I was sent subsequently amusingly puts it.
The Sweet Lights album has probably more things in common with Kurt Vile’s Smoke Rings For My Halo than War On Drugs’ Wagonwheel Blues or Slave Ambient, and among its several stand-out tracks I currently can’t stop playing the hazily beautiful “Ballad Of Kurt Vile #2” with its sparkling layers of guitars and wispy vocal. The album’s released by Highline Records on April 30, but you can hear some music now if you go to sweetlights.tumblr, where you should find covers of Sharron Van Etten’s “One Day” and The Traveling Wilburys “Handle With Care”.
Anyway, the clock’s ticking and I have to vamoose. Have a good week.