Anybody listening? I am… to the War on Drugs, John Moreland and Stu Larsen
There are times when my friends ask me for music recommendations… bands they should check out, albums they should buy, shows they should attend. And then there are times when they don’t ask me at all, but I get so excited about a song or a concert that I hijack a dinner conversation to rank my favorite tunes off the new(-ish) Jason Isbell & the 400 Unit album (It’s true; I basically did that. But it was my birthday dinner, and that’s what I wanted to talk about. So can we all just move on already? Okay? Okay.)
Anyway, I thought it might be fun to give my friends a break from the endorsements and instead leave a few right here for whoever happens to stumble upon this post (or finds it as I’m aggressively promoting it across social networks). Here goes:
The War on Drugs:
It would be remiss of me if I didn’t start this off by talking about the album that everyone is talking about, even though it hasn’t yet been released. That would be none other than A Deeper Understanding, the War on Drugs’ record we’ve been waiting for since 2014 when Lost in the Dream ushered in a new ruler of rock in the form of singer, songwriter and guitarist Adam Granduciel. Over the past few months, the band has been releasing singles from the album that will ultimately be available on Aug. 25 — starting with Thinking of a Place, an 11-minute track that’s been called synth-laced, spectral and psychedelic. That one was followed by Holding On, Strangest Thing, Pain, Up All Night (which came out today), and even a Warren Zevon cover for the Spotify Singles series. The Philly-born band’s cover of Zevon’s Accidentally Like a Martyr won’t be making it on to this upcoming 10-track release, but you can listen to their tribute here (and also catch them on tour this fall, with hopes they’ll bring that tune on the road).
Another release that’s been getting a lot of play (and press) from me this summer is actually an album that came out before Memorial Day. It’s Americana singer-songwriter John Moreland’s Big Bad Luv. I first became a fan of Moreland in 2013 when I saw American Aquarium’s BJ Barham share a picture of In the Throes on his Instagram.
Plain and simple, when BJ advocates for another artist, I perk up and pay attention. Call it talent recognizing talent, but the guy has a great track record for recommending quality musicians, whether it’s on his social media or at American Aquarium’s annual Roadtrip to Raleigh, a two-night hometown party featuring the band and some of their favorite colleagues.
But, back to Moreland. He may be best known for his sad songs — after all, he has plenty of those, and he certainly doesn’t deny it, singing lines like “I’m so damn good at sorrow” and “If we don’t bleed, it don’t feel like a song.” But I think what I’ve discovered with Big Bad Luv is that it’s not about singing sad songs, it’s about sharing real, honest and raw emotions, whether they’re happy or sad or something in between. That’s what Moreland has a gift for, and we’re all the lucky recipients.
I’m going to see Stu Larsen at Schubas in Chicago tonight, so it seems pretty timely to include him on this list. Plus, just a few weeks ago, the Aussie singer-songwriter released his follow-up to 2014’s Vagabond in the form of Resolute. Larsen is a bit of a vagabond himself, crisscrossing the country on tour this month before he heads to Europe in September to do the same… not to mention that 10 years ago, he gave away most of his belongings and set out on the road to tour and collect experiences that have informed his songwriting in a very distinct way.
In Going Back to Bowenville, Larsen sings “When I turned 26, well I just walked away, I think about it all the time, what if I had’ve stayed.” Lucky for us, the answer to that question doesn’t really exist; otherwise, we probably would have been precluded from ever hearing Larsen’s sweet vocal melodies or the riffs of his guitars — for the record, he names them after the cities in which they were purchased (like the 1973 Martin D-35 that factors prominently in his Chicago Song).
Like these recommendations? Have some of your own? I’d love to hear what you’re listening to, so please share!
Rachel Landen is a Raleigh-based writer who likes her fashion Penny Lane and her music indie. Find her @landenrachel.