The Pulse reviews: Jason Isbell, Haim, Perfume Genius, Fiona Apple
Hello and welcome to this episode of BPM Pod, the podcast where we get behind people's music.
I hope you're doing well out there in these strange times and am glad you're taking the time to listen to the podcast. Thanks for your continued support, love and dedication. Remember if you want to get in touch with me here at BPM Pod, you can do so via the social channels, so definitely check those out. And I'd like to know what music you've enjoyed recently too so, if you want to submit a quick 30 second clip of you reviewing some music you've encountered recently – good or bad – then head over to the Facebook page at BPM Pod and drop me a message.
So for now, it's time for another episode of The Pulse here on BPM Pod, where I look at some of the music I've recently encountered – some new, some old, some finished, some not.
On this episode, I look at new music from Haim, Perfume Genius, and Fiona Apple. But first, I want to turn my attention to one of my favourite singer-songwriters today, and someone we've heard a bit of before on this podcast, and that is Jason Isbell with his album Reunions.
Jason Isbell – Reunions
The fourth album from American alt-country soft-rock blues-rock singer-songwriter Jason Isbell, accompanied here by The 400 Unit. Follows The Nashville Sound – a great album – from 2017.
Now I read somewhere that Isbell thinks Reunions is his strongest work yet and that set me up for expecting a lot, so do keep that in mind. But overall, Reunions for me was good, not great.
On the plus side, the sound here is different and has a lot more resemblance to a well produced Jackson Browne album, or offcuts of Dire Straits. There's a lot of overdubbing and layering here with some dreamlike effects, stereo landscapes and so on.
In terms of the songwriting, it's largely strong, with stand out tracks such as Overseas, Be Afraid and Only Children really stealing the show. A couple for me fall by the wayside, including St Peter's Autograph, Running With Our Eyes Closed, and controversially What've I Done To Help – a track which people seem to love for the Bill Withers slash Walk on the Wild Side blend, but is a track I think is overly long, repetitive and quite weak lyrically.
There are excellent performances from the band members, as always. Dave Cobb does brilliantly with the production too. But unlike his previous releases – Southeastern and Something more than free particularly – there's something in Reunions which brings distance and unrelatability. It's not somehow as touching or heartfelt, even though individual elements are excellent, whereas his other releases demand repeat listens to understand all of the emotions underneath.
So I overall like the direction Isbell has taken with this album, particularly in terms of the new sounds he has created, but for me it is not his best. Still a very worthy addition to his catalogue, and I recommend fans buy it, and newcomers give it a listen at least.
women in Music Part 3
Now this is not strictly a review, as the album has now been delayed until June sometime, due to the current nonsense in the world. But with that said, I want to talk about it because the first handful of tracks from the upcoming album really point to something special.
Now I have been a Haim fan for a long time, even when I had people saying they were poppy Fleetwood Mac rip-offs. To me they've always had some kind of sense of humour and gravitas about them, as well as a tonne of talent. And while I still don't fully understand or hear the influences that Haim tout so often – such as Destiny's Child, TLC and so on – I do get the pop sensibilities that they evoke.
The tracks that are out there so far are Summer Girl, Now I'm In It, Hallelujah, The Steps, I Know Alone, and Don't Wanna. So there's almost half the album out there right now.
For me, the strongest tracks are Don't Wanna and The Steps, but I guess this is because it appeals to my previously mentioned Fleetwood Mac tendencies. Summer Girl was released a while ago now kind of out of the blue and has a definite – again I mention this – Walk On The Wild Side vibe. It's very non-Haim but also very Haim.
One track that sounds very non-Haim is I Know Alone, which has a strange but somehow alluring music video of the sisters dancing in a socially distant manner. It's a song that sounds more akin to something from Caroline Polachek, notably the song Doors, and therefore is not so far removed from the Haim sound, but is a little different. Lyrically, I find the Haim track I Know Alone pretty weak, and it's too repetitive for my liking, too generic, and too electronic for my taste. However, a bit like the directional change I praised Jason Isbell for earlier, I like that Haim are trying something new.
So the album Women in Music Part 3 is not out for a little while but, based on the tracks so far, I think we're in for an absolute treat from Haim and I cannot wait to get stuck into the album for real.
Set My Heart on Fire Immediately
Perfume Genius, the moniker of singer-songwriter Mike Hadreas, released this album this week to absolute critical acclaim.
I confess: I had never heard of Perfume Genius before. But I guarantee you I will be tracking music from Perfume Genius in the future.
I wasn't blown away by this album quite to the gushing same level of reviews from Alex Petridis in The Guardian and so on, but I enjoyed it nonetheless. The tracks here are certainly pop, but of a candied late seventies early eighties vibe, somewhat like Paul Young or Bryan Ferry.
Vocally, this album is excellent. There's real longing, hurt and strain across the album, particularly on songs like Just A Touch. The singles – notably On The Floor – have an almost Vampire Weekend vibe to them. And for an artist who writes a lot about addiction, bullying, and sexuality, there's a happiness in many places on this record.
A couple of tracks here can't be put into the same synth-driven slick pop bucket as the rest though, notably Describe, which is a kind of noir-ish pop-grunge track, which I actually kind of feel like is what Neil Young was trying to go for with his eighties New Wave slash grunge idea but never really achieved. It's a weird track for sure, and I heard someone describe it as 'gay grunge' which I don't know is an appropriate or correct description, but equally I cannot quite put my finger on how to describe it either.
I do think the album is a little long, with 13 tracks stretching the limit a little, although they are all short pop affairs.
And yeah, it is a strange album for sure, and won't be at the top of everyone's list. It's not the top of mine either, but I will say that as a throwback to an era which never existed kind of sound, this certainly hits the mark.
Fetch the Boltcutters
This is one I only just got around too, released back in April. Fiona Apple is someone I've dabbled with in the past, and someone I knew about, but not someone I paid much attention to musically. So when I was faced with album, not knowing all that much about her previous work, you can probably sympathise that this very atypical, bizarre album hit me like a train.
And I loved it. Musically, it's like a part-improvised, percussion poetry session. Fiona cries out, scratches, scowls, shouts, and rages on the topics of bullying, sexual assault, confinement, lies, truth, friendship and more. It's angry, yet oddly darkly humorous
What's more, this album is largely recorded on the fly and at home, and that could be a criticism but it really isn't. It helps breed the unpredictability, the explosiveness, the sudden changes in rhythm, tempo and keys. I hear shades of Joni Mitchell here, of Suzanne Vega, even of something completely different like J Dilla or Sharon Van Etten. It's a maddening yet exciting mix of music. It's not polished, it's not perfect, and that's what makes it great. There's no messing around here, and for an album about getting the boltcutters and cutting yourself free from whatever prison you've created, the sound does exactly what Fiona preaches – it breaks free of the usual routines and structures and offers something unique, insightful, and certainly divisive. I love it, and would urge you check it out, that's Fiona Apple with Fetch The Boltcutters.
And that's all for the Pulse for now here on BPM Pod. You can find all of the releases I just mentioned on BPM Pod dot com, and on the social channels (Facebook and Instagram). And you can read more on BPM Pod dot com, and revisit all of the previous episodes there, or on Apple Podcasts, Google Podcasts, Spotify or wherever you listen to your podcasts.
On the next episode, we'll have part two of the extended podcast with Chris Weinhardt, so stay tuned for that.
Stay safe and stay lucky, and thank you for listening to and supporting BPM Pod.