in Review

Here’s the thing. I still like writing about music, but it’s been hard the past few years to figure out the best way to write about music. Full-fledged reviews often feel both a little too precious and like I’ve missed my window since I’m not a professional music critic and don’t get to listen to albums before their release dates. Also, waiting until the halfway point or end of the year often feels like too long of a wait between the time I first found my sweet spot of listening to a new album and actually getting around to writing about it. So maybe I’ll try out giving my thoughts on albums I liked from the past month I’ve lived through. Although, it’s possible I just feel compelled to write about some of the music from February 2022 because it’s been absolutely packed with albums I’ve been excited about after 2021 as a whole fell a little flat music-wise. So let’s see how this goes…

Anaïs Mitchell – Anaïs Mitchell

This album actually came out in late January, but it’s the one I probably spent the most time listening to this month. Anaïs Mitchell is a folk/Americana singer who has actually been around for a while, but as was proven by my recent foray into Brandy Carlisle last year, this is a genre that I’m more often than not pretty out-of-touch with. Mitchell even had one of her previous albums (Hadestown) turned into a Broadway musical recently, though I find myself more taken with the intimate approach Mitchell takes here. You’d think I’d be burned out on low-key singer-songwriter albums that were clearly conceived during the isolation of the pandemic, but something about Mitchell’s gentle reflections here evoke just the right mood.

Mitski – Laurel Hell

After becoming indie rock’s Next Big Thing in the wake of 2018’s Be The Cowboy, it seems that the mildly reclusive Mitski felt a need to step back from the public eye for a while. Laurel Hell carries that feeling throughout its 11 tracks, as it’s a more muted (but still very strong) outing from her that doesn’t quite see her reaching for that next level of whatever she wants her career to be. I don’t think the album is necessarily a disappointment just because it doesn’t quite live up to the heights of her last two albums, as she’s still a great songwriter and has one of the most emotionally potent voices in modern music. That said, with so many prominent indie rock musicians making the transition to smoothed out dance-pop after achieving a certain level of success, I’m not sure that Mitski adds much to that particular sound here, even if her return is more than welcome.

Animal Collective – Time Skiffs

I did not think I needed a new Animal Collective album in my life, but that’s mostly because they’ve spent the last decade or so in the wake of 2009’s Merriweather Post Pavillion alienating as many casual fans (like myself) as possible. Also, I’ve never been particularly enamored with the late ’00s arty era of indie rock that Animal Collective represented, so I had kind of decided they were a band that were just extremely overhyped by Pitchfork at the time.

I don’t know that Time Skiffs has necessarily erased all of that for me, but it has made it obvious that divorced from whatever hype they did or did not deserve, Animal Collective are still an interesting little band that doesn’t quite sound like anyone else. You could say that here they’re returning to the more accessible sounds of their Merriweather days, but it also sees them embracing the more organic sounds of their early records in a way that feels like a summation of the band’s career coming from a band that always seemed a little too unpredictable to do such a thing.

Spoon – Lucifer On The Sofa

Along with a new Animal Collective album, the return of a dependable-as-usual Spoon made it feel even more like it was 2007 again. After the dancier Hot Thoughts, Lucifer On The Sofa sees these Austin rockers (and perhaps one of this blog’s most lauded bands) returning to a more guitar-driven, straight-up rock sound and I’m here for it. Spoon in their prime were always captivating in the way they were able to reconstruct traditional rock music in their own off-kilter image, but it’s just as satisfying hearing this band making an album that any fan of crunchy guitars and leather-jacketed swagger can enjoy. In fact, it almost feels radical in a way, considering how little indie rock these days actually embraces what we traditionally think of as rock music. I’m not sure I’d quite rate this outing as high as They Want My Soul (my personal favorite of Spoon’s later albums), but it’s still a good one for sure.

Hurray For The Riff Raff – Life On Earth

Hurray For The Riff Raff’s The Navigator was a revelation for me, so much so that it ended up making my top ten albums of the 2010s. So, it’s safe to say my anticipation for Alynda Segarra’s follow-up was fairly high, even if the five-year gap between albums had cooled some of these expectations slightly. While Life On Earth doesn’t have the unified coherence of a concept album like The Navigator, the fact that it embraces a messier quality makes it all the more worthy of the extensive listening that I haven’t yet had the time to give it. Still, it sees Segarra further entrenching their prowess as a first-rate singer-songwriter, even if they’ve definitely strayed from the rootsier sounds of the earlier Riff Raff albums. It’s an album that sees a continuation of the societal commentary of The Navigator combined with more personal ruminations, which culminate in another triumphant album closer in “SAGA”.

Though Life On Earth came out the same day as the new Beach House album, that album’s length has kept me from getting a ton of thorough listens, so maybe I’ll spare my thoughts on that or save it for next time. That is, if there is a next time.