Un­pack­ing Sad­ness

Exclaim! - - REVIEWS - MATTHEW BLENKARN CHRIS GEE ANNA ALGER

Phoebe Bridgers

Stranger in the Alps

The grip­ping ten­sion be­tween vul­ner­a­bil­ity and courage on Los An­ge­les mu­si­cian Phoebe Bridgers’ de­but al­bum, Stranger in the Alps, is some­thing that usu­ally takes singer-song­writ­ers nu­mer­ous at­tempts to achieve — if ever. Open­ing song “Smoke Sig­nals” starts out with weary, elo­quent gui­tar and Bridgers’ quiet, ar­rest­ing voice gen­tly ex­pos­ing cracks in her haunt­ing mem­o­ries. She’s mourn­ing for lost friends, he­roes, feel­ings and homes, and ac­cep­tance be­comes a way for her to cope with the void. Half­way through, sparse patches of strings slightly fill the songs’ burn­ing sen­ti­ment with these strands of hope. Bridgers’ ob­ses­sion with un­der­stand­ing sad­ness al­lows Stranger in the Alps to dis­til the emo­tion so that ev­ery line sticks, and is re­lat­able in some way.

As har­row­ing as parts of Stranger in the Alps is, Bridgers shifts into more op­ti­mistic ar­range­ments on the alt-coun­try ra­di­ance

his songs feel less like ex­per­i­ments and more like the work of a con­fi­dent, com­mand­ing artist. Good Will Come to You finds the mu­si­cian/pro­ducer set­tling in with­out set­tling down. Calm per­vades the 21-track al­bum (orig­i­nally re­leased as a cas­sette last year on Egg Pa­per Fac­tory), yet Un Blonde re­mains un­rooted to any par­tic­u­lar genre. Folk, soul, psychedelia, gospel and a litany of other styles sur­face through­out, with each de­vo­tional song de­fy­ing cat­e­go­riza­tion. Sound beds of cars, seag­ulls and street cel­e­bra­tions cre­ate a lo-fi in­ti­macy that be­lies the com­plex pro­duc­tion. Multi-part vo­cal har­monies trans­fig­ure in­tro­spec­tive lyrics into near-ec­static rev­e­la­tions at one mo­ment and breezy, re­signed sighs at an­other. Be­tween finger-pick­ing, choppy strum­ming and noodly riff­ing, Audet never favours one par­tic­u­lar playing style. Even when his tracks lapse into lan­guor or shape­less­ness, he brings ev­ery­thing to­gether in a com­pellingly com­posed whole. It’s so sooth­ingly ex­haus­tive that you won­der where Un Blonde can go next. (Flem­ish Eye, flem­ish­eye.com) of “Mo­tion Sick­ness,” and on the melan­choly duet with Conor Oberst, “Would You Rather.” The al­bum’s nar­ra­tive of anec­do­tal self-eval­u­a­tion and re­me­dial sur­ren­der never wa­vers though, and is im­pres­sive con­sid­er­ing that many of the songs were writ­ten across sev­eral years. “Killer,” orig­i­nally pro­duced by Ryan Adams in 2015, is re-recorded here as a stun­ning pi­ano bal­lad and feels com­fort­able in its yield­ing ma­tu­rity. The sim­i­larly re-done “Ge­or­gia,” writ­ten by Bridgers when she was in high school about heart­break, adds buzzing elec­tric gui­tar to ac­com­pany Bridgers’ most pre­cious and mem­o­rable vo­cal melody on the al­bum. Stranger in the Alps is a gor­geously writ­ten record, and Bridgers shows her bril­liance con­sis­tently across its 45-minute run time. Af­ter tour­ing with the like­minded Julien Baker and vet­eran Oberst, Bridgers is sure to fol­low in their foot­steps, with a promis­ing fu­ture ahead of her. (Dead Oceans, dead­o­ceans.com) for off-kil­ter in­die rock that he im­bues with his bizarre sense of hu­mour and nu­anced artistry. His new al­bum, Light In­for­ma­tion, show­cases tracks de­buted by his band the Bleach Wipes on tour, flesh­ing out the rough, iso­la­tion-cen­tred jams. It’s a fun mix of synths, laid-back gui­tars and the war­bling vo­cals VanGaalen is known for. Yet, it’s the more dis­cor­dant tracks that re­ally hold lis­ten­ers’ at­ten­tion. While VanGaalen avoids pro­found lyri­cal ob­ser­va­tions, his world­view re­mains one in which lis­ten­ers can lose them­selves. When he uses eerie, an­tic­i­pa­tory sounds, like on opener “Mind Hi­jacker’s Curse,” VanGaalen tran­scends mere com­fort, which will be both strik­ing and wel­come to long-time fans. (Flem­ish Eye, flem­ish­eye.com) The Wilder­ness of Man­i­toba

Across the Dark

The Wilder­ness of Man­i­toba’s fifth al­bum, Across the Dark, pushes their sound fur­ther along the path from folk up­starts to fes­ti­val-pop stal­warts. Dark is the first Wilder­ness al­bum solely writ­ten and pro­duced by lone orig­i­nal mem­ber Will Whitwham, and there’s a fit­ting sin­gu­lar­ity to its sound; the in­stru­men­ta­tion and pro­duc­tion snugly couch his songcraft’s in­creas­ingly pop-rock

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