In Rotation: Mount Eerie, Ride, Fine China, Amy Annelle, Josh T. Pearson (Review)

Heart-breaking music about death; dreamy electronica from shoegaze giants; inspired ’80s pop; plaintive, old-timey folk/country; and goofy country-punk.
Phil Elverum

In Rotation is a regular Opus feature where I post short reviews of noteworthy music, both new and old, that I’ve been listening to lately.

“Distortion” by Mount Eerie

One of 2017’s best albums was Mount Eerie’s A Crow Looked at Me, a devastating and deeply poignant album that chronicled Phil Elverum’s grief after his wife’s death. That sort of loss doesn’t leave easily, so it should be no surprise that death and grief also figure prominently in Mount Eerie’s recently announced Now Only (due March 16, 2018 via P.W. Elverum & Sun, Ltd.)

The album’s first single is the sprawling, eleven-minute “Distortion,” which finds Elverum musing on his wife’s absence and single parenthood (“Is it my job now to hold whatever’s left of you for all time? And to reenact you for our daughter’s life?”), contemplating death and mortality, and even reminiscing about a previous brush with fatherhood.

Elverum could be accused of cramming in more words than necessary. But in the end, I don’t know which ones could be removed. Each vignette contains lovely, even heartbreaking details. In the end, Elverum sings clearly and cogently, everything fades; death comes for us all. But, he also reminds us, moments of beauty can be found in the midst of the decay… if you’re willing to sit still and listen.

“Catch You Dreaming” by Ride

“Catch You Dreaming” is one of the first songs available from Ride’s upcoming Tomorrow’s Shore EP (due February 16, 2018 via Wichita Recordings) and it finds the band reuniting with producer Erol Alkan (who worked on their 2017 album, Weather Diaries). And I have to say, it’s one of the best and most exciting songs I’ve heard from the Oxford quartet in, maybe, ever.

Of course, it’s plenty dreamy, as is Ride’s wont. But “Catch You Dreaming” relegates the band’s trademark guitar assault to its edge and denouement, where it lazily shimmers and glitters. Instead, the song’s core consists of softly pulsing synth pads and arpeggios that have more in common with the Balearic sounds of Studio and Jonas Munk.

As a result, “Catch You Dreaming” has a lofty, lighter-than-air feel — it drifts by like clouds on the most pleasant of summer days — that’s perfect for Mark Gardener’s reverbed voice and pensive lyrics (“We’ve done nothing wrong/It’s just who we are/No need to apologize/We’ll work it out this way). “Catch You Dreaming” is Ride at their most blissed out, and it’s a sound I hope they explore further on future releases.

“Not Thrilled” by Fine China

Fine China never really got the attention they deserved. Sure, countless artists have riffed on The Smiths and New Order, but Fine China did it better than many, with plenty of sass to go with their super-catchy melodies. They essentially disappeared after 2005’s The Jaws of Life, but got back together last year and began working on a new album: Not Thrilled, which will be released on February 23 by Velvet Blue Music.

But you can get a taste via the just-released You Are Not the Future EP, which contains the “Not Thrilled” single (plus two excellent bonus tracks). “Not Thrilled” starts off with the clean guitars, synth hooks, and pouty vocals you’d expect from the Fine China boys — but it also shows that they’re not totally indebted to the past (e.g., the song’s bridge, thanks to Rob Withem’s ghostly guitar). It’s a much-welcome return from a band that deserves more attention than they got the first time around.

“Buckskin Stallion Blues” by Amy Annelle

If you’ve seen Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri, then you might recognize this song, which plays during the movie’s final minutes. Amy Annelle has been quiet in recent years, due to a long battle with endometriosis — her last album was 2015’s Surgery. But there’s nothing out of style in Annelle’s music. Rather, it possesses a timeless quality, existing as it does on the edge of folk, country, and other traditional music genres.

Listening to Annelle, it’s easy to forget you’re listening to music released this decade. The stripped down, ramshackle songwriting, vintage instrumentation, and warbling voice gives the impression that you’re actually listening to some old-timey recordings somebody stumbled across in an abandoned farmhouse’s attic. That, and Annelle’s music inspires images of traveling through wide open spaces like the midwestern prairies, the Nebraskan Sandhills, and the southwestern deserts — places that still seem relatively unharmed by modernity.

“Straight to the Top!” by Josh T. Pearson

As both Lift to Experience’s frontman and a solo artist, Josh T. Pearson gained an image as a rather tortured soul, be it from apocalyptic visions from God or a broken heart, and his visage — haggard expression, long beard and unkempt hair, dusty cowboy garb — only added to that. But last year, he shaved his beard, cleaned up his wardrobe, and adopted a new, streamlined approach to songwriting, with the result being a new album: The Straight Hits! (due April 13, 2018 via Mute).

Opening single “Straight to the Top!” is arguably the most straightforward (npi) rock song Pearson has released to date (not surprising, given that he wrote the entire album in three days). There are some similarities to Pearson’s past work, namely his crooning voice and fiery guitar work. But by and large, “Straight to the Top!” is a clean break from Pearson’s past musical endeavors… and to be honest, I’m still not sure how I feel about the song’s “goofy shit-kicking country-punk” (as the press release describes it).

I miss the long, drawn out passages of psychedelia, as well as Pearson’s morose-yet-spiritual lyrics. At the same time, if Pearson’s in a happier place in life, and this song is indicative of it… well, I never want artists to remain in anguish, spiritual or otherwise, simply for my entertainment. I suppose this is a classic example of needing to wait until I hear the whole album and how this song fits in with the rest of Pearson’s new compositions, before making up my mind.

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