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