Irish Independent music critic John Meagher has all the records you need to hear this month.
The US songsmith has been through the ringer. She endured years of violent abuse and coercive control from her partner Kennan Gudjonsson and the day after she left him, in early2020, he took his own life. This extraordinary album tackles feeling of anger, guilt, desperation and redemption. The songs are spare and powerful and so brutally honest you feel like a voyeur just listening in. But it’s a testament to the brilliance of the material that you can’t turn away— bare-boned Nature will worm its way into your soul.
The break-up album is an enduring form that often finds artists at their most vulnerable. This is the Oregon native’s first since her divorce from producer Tucker Martine, but few of the songs wallow in misery. Instead, as the optimistic title suggests, it’s about seizing new opportunities, carving out fresh beginnings and learning from past mistakes. The wise and true Seaside Haiku finds Veirs dispensing advice: “Give but don’t give too much of yourself away…I’ve learned a lot from pain.”
Her first two albums should have made Sophie Allison as big as Phoebe Bridgers. In a just world, this third one will do that. Like Bridgers, she writes perceptively about being young, female and creative in today’s divided America. Her songs manage to be both accessible and off-kilter and she is as comfortable with delivering a universal indie anthem as she is homespun, whimsical confessionals. Daniel Lopatin, who records as Oneohtrix Point Never, is a thrilling choice of producer. He’s responsible for the pulsating Uncut Gems soundtrack and here he aids Allison in her brave sonic choices.
The Canadian-born, New Zealand-based country singer is one of music’s best-kept secrets. This fifth album should open the doors a little further. It channels a love of Patsy Cline and Neilson’s intricately weaved songs explore love and loss, and have plenty new to say. I Can Forget is a fresh take on grief, inspired by the death of her father, while Careless Woman finds her at her storytelling best. There’s a great deal to savour on this short, focused album and Beyond the Stars, a duet with 89-year-old Willie Nelson, is uncommonly lovely.
Gwenno Saunders seems to have little interest in courting radio playlisters. Her first album was recorded in her native Welsh, her second in her father’s Cornish and this one in a mixture of the two, with some English thrown in for good measure. She does a fine line in synth pop and psychedelic folk, and her ethereal vocals anchor the whole enterprise. The natural world seems to be a key concern(the sparse, eerie Kan Me) and she finds inspiration in Cornwall’s wildl and and seascapes (the wordless instrumental Men an Toll).
Twenty years on from their magnificently assured debut Turn on the Bright Lights, the New York-based trio are still delivering dark, textured rock. With heavyweight producers Flood and Alan Moulder at the helm, a little light has been allowed to permeate the band’s monochrome tendencies. That’s certainly the case on album highlight Fables and on the muscular, arena-sized Gran Hotel. Paul Banks’ lyrics, as usual, veer from thought-provoking to inscrutable, but he’s a vocalist who compels you to listen. If underwhelming at first, this seventh album blooms into something special.
Formentera is the smallest of the Balearics and although no member of Metric had actually been there, it provided escapist inspiration during lockdown 5,000km away in Toronto. But anyone expecting this eighth album to be as cheery as a Mediterranean knees-up will be surprised. Emily Haines’ songs are wracked with anxiety and insecurity— not least on the 10-minute opener Doomscroller, which ruminates on phone-dependency and conspiracy theories that are just a few swipes away. The album grapples with similarly weighty themes, but there are several fine tunes, including the stirring Paths in the Sky.