15th December 2020
Three very different new albums crossed my path recently and today I am featuring a track from each. The first is from a band we looked at earlier on this year after the release of the aptly named The Unravelling. I’m talking about Drive-By Truckers. The album covered scorching topics that resulted in a hard-hitting social commentary about American life at the time.
November saw another album from this Georgia-based outfit, The New OK. As the name implies, the Drive-By Truckers continue their examination of the social situation. Although you may think this is more of the same, the sheer musical brilliance helps set this album apart.
The New OK came about when lock-down restriction prevented the band from heading out on the road doing what they do best. Their social consciousness was pricked yet again while watching their country fall apart and spurred them to work on songs that had been planned for The Unravelling, but put aside for a new album.
Some may feel that the album feels a little out-of-kilter with their catalogue works, but considering the times it is written in, I think this can be forgiven. After all, living in the knowledge that things are not OK, and not knowing how to protect yourself, never mind your loved ones, isn’t conducive to a feel-good album.
Here’s the title track The New OK that Patterson Hood wrote after a clash between peaceful protesters and ‘the others’ that he witnessed in his hometown of Portland whee the footage of the video was shot.
The second new album to have piqued my interest is from a name you’ll remember from the late 80s, Smashing Pumpkins. With hits like Bullet with Butterfly Wings and Tonight Tonight fixing them as favourites among the line-up of 90s bands. Their 11th album, CYR, was released late last month, and shows that the old Billy Corgan magic is not dead, although some may have thought so.
Corgan is no stranger to public feuds, PR blunders and a striving for perfection that has alienated him from fans and the fellow musical fraternity on occasions. On this album he seems to have embraced and accepted all of these shortcomings, and unapologetically put together a collection of superb tracks that show a decidedly more synth-pop sound than their usual offerings.
Visuals have always been a big part of the Smashing Pumpkins videos, and the release of CYR was accompanied by a five-part animation series names ‘In Ashes’ which became the official videos for five of the tracks earmarked as singles from the album.
On the subject of the track listing, when the album was in planning stages, Corgan and drummer Jimmy Chamberlin had 35 songs to whittle down and choose from. I can imagine it was a pretty tough decision. I’m sharing the title track from the new album that grabbed me from first hearing. Here’s CYR. Let me know what you think.
The last new album I am sharing today comes from a man who is known for not running with the pack – Nick Cave. I was intrigued earlier this month when Deutsche Grammophone announced the release of collaboration between Cave and the Belgian Composer Nicholas Lens.
When the two musical heavyweight’s plans for 2020 were scuttled due to COVID lockdowns, they realised they had to find something to bide the time. Lens had an idea for a collection of litanies that would embody the feeling of the early morning silence that he felt in the grounds of the 13th century Abbeys that he had visited.
Nicholas Lens had come to international recognition with his 2012 opera Slow Man, written with South African literary giant J M Coetzee. Needing a librettist, he contacted Nick Cave, with whom he had collaborated on Shell Shocked, the 2014 opera exploring the horrors of war. In Len’s words, “I wanted to work with someone who was fresh to the field of opera; someone who was most believable and authentic in the way they would use words. Nick was obviously that person.”
Cave picks up the story, “Nicholas called me during lockdown and asked if I would write 12 litanies. I happily agreed. The first thing I did after I put down the phone was search ‘What is a litany?’ I learned that a litany was a series of religious petitions, and realised I had been writing litanies all my life.” The 12 litanies track the birth, blooming, fracturing and eventual rebirth of the individual, that petition a divine maker for some sort of acknowledgement.
Because of the social distancing rules, each of the musicians had to come in and record his or her part separately, but the finished product manages to capture a unified group of superb performers. As all studios were closed, the recordings took place in Len’s home. He remarked that this managed to imbue some of the sense of a dead and spooky city into the album. “Coincidentally” he commented “In the end, all of this was recorded in one room, so it literally is chamber music!”
LITANIES won’t appeal to everyone, but the fact that this is a remarkable achievement is clear. This is an album for those times when some slightly off-beat secular music suits the occasion, or you just want to get lost in the beauty of the words and music. To close today I have chosen the reflective Litany of the Forsaken.
Thanks for joining me for a round-up of new releases. Catch you soon.
The Loving the Music mini-features are written and compiled by me to support Loving the Music Facebook page and group. Join the community for regular themed three-part posts that do do more than just share a song.
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Words © Andrew Knapp 2020