Jason Molina found it really hard to let go of some things. He is that special kind of songwriter who has favourite phrases and obsessive trains of thoughts. If you look long enough, you can find them in any songwriter. I urge each of you, one day, to play the world’s most tender checklist game: what does my favourite artist say the most? I was playing it long before I listened to Molina—I know Will Sheff is affectionate towards rivers, sea shores, and the rock ‘n’ roll unsung. A songwriter’s favourite words might not look like a lot at first, but they tie their records together until it feels like you’re making a trip to your old school anytime you listen to them. For Sheff, a river is a great source of consistency in your life. It can be visited half way through your bumbling twenties or at the age of ten, and you’ll still stare into it. Molina’s props feel different, though. They are less resourceful and they grab you instantly, rolling into view before the rest of his poetic vision gets a chance to. You don’t revisit his music for the clues, because none of them are hidden.
In Evening Air, still the band’s best work and one of the most fiercely cathartic break-up records you’ll ever find, sprang from devastating betrayal and the twin pains of the toxic anger and wrenching self-doubt that come in the wake of such a shock. On the Water found stillness after the crash, the rage of In Evening Air boiled away. Now, Singles finishes the arc in its logical place, with the sound of Herring and his band stripping away the remaining shreds of dissonance—both emotional and musical—to create a joyful, almost evangelically hopeful record about finally letting the light in.
On the whole, G I R L is a glitzy, sugar-coated rehash of its massively successful pop peers The 20/20 Experience (2013) and Random Access Memories (2013), Pharrell reveling in an excessively decadent pop sound and neutering it of any bite, the result being a largely forgettable record that sounds like it cost a lot of money to make.
If there’s a fault to be found in July, it’s the record’s tendency toward monochrome. The album, at a distance or on a first handful of spins, seems to blur into a single song cycle. The tempo remains steady, Nadler’s immaculate voice hypnotizes with its swung-pendulum power, and the subtle sprinkling of additional instrumentation can be light enough to breeze by on a first or second pass . But let July breathe with you for a time, and its rhythms—the small shifts in mood, the way Nadler sprinkles barbs throughout the album to play off of more ruminative lyrical material like tripwires springing a trap in the instant you realize where you’ve stepped—become distinct.
It’s all about the beat on those verses. The song a paean to the snap-step, the melodic builds of the bridges and choruses in “Dark Horse” really just function as pleasing ways to revert back to that eerie synth arpeggio and trap beat. The chopped ‘n’ screwed vocal of “there’s no going back” that closes the hooks re-introduces the track’s ensnaring base, snapping snares and fat bass daring you not to move to it.
While it retains the cheerfully amateur style of the Beets, N.A.P. is undeniably more melancholy and introspective. Wauters still has a unique way with words—meaning he still specializes in confusing circular logic, at times letting words fall one by one into unsortable piles. And even without the support of Garcia, Wauters’s enduring ability to define his own little wacko world within a thirty-minute record is a treat to listen to.