What Am I Listening To? – April 2018

Here are my first impressions of the latest releases from Andrew Peterson, Chatham County Line, Kindo, The Colorist Orchestra & Lisa Hannigan, and Kimbra.

Andrew Peterson – Resurrection Letters, Volume 1
The prequel to 2008’s Resurrection Letters, Volume 2 was released on Good Friday, though Peterson had advised fans to wait until Easter Sunday to take it in, and I obliged his request during a solo walk on that cloudy afternoon. Taking it in for the first time, I found myself wishing I’d listened to Volume 2 more recently, since a number of these nine new songs reference the older ones, and I should probably do a side-by-side comparison before I write the review. The music here is still very liturgical, in keeping with the prologue EP he put out back in February, though since the EP covered Christ’s death on the cross and this one covers the immediate ramifications of his resurrection, the music here is generally more upbeat and anthemic. Opener “His Heart Beats” is an instant classic that may well be to Peterson what “Creed” was to Rich Mullins. A few of the other songs are more conversational, trying to imagine the point of view of various disciples, I suppose, though the storytelling here doesn’t seem quite as strong as it did on the more varied tracks heard on Volume 2. Strangely enough, I’m actually finding that the prologue EP resonates more with me song-for-song than the full album is was meant to set the stage for. But I like the sense of thematic closure that this new set of songs provide, and I think Volume 1 might actually have worked better all together as a 14-song suite, rather than sequestering the first part of the narrative as its own separate thing.

Chatham County Line – Autumn
I’m actually playing catch-up on this one – it came out in 2016, but I wasn’t aware of it until just recently, and as of this writing it is still the North Carolina bluegrass quartet’s latest album. They might push harder into traditional territory than they did on the fairly accessible Tightrope this time around, but I also feel like the group’s lost a little something in the vocal harmony department. The stories and instrumentation are fascinating on several of these songs, and they even employ light humor to decent effect on a few songs to offset the weepy tragedy heard in a few others. But I’m just not as struck by the melodies this time around. Nothing here is hitting me as hard as “Any Port in a Storm” or “Traveler”. Dave Wilson is by no means a bad vocalists, but there are a few moments when his voice doesn’t quite land on a note with quite the amount of power he seems to be aiming for, so a little more backup in that department might have helped this record to be a bit more memorable.

Kindo – Happy However After
The Reign of Kindo is now just known as Kindo (though Spotify has yet to catch up with the name change). The band had been posting quite a bit on their social media page as they released individual songs quite steadily to their Patreon supporters – I’ve never been a big fan of subscribing to a single band in this fashion because I’m way more interested in albums than singles, but they assured us that this was all leading up to their long-awaited fourth album, so I’m glad that the rest of us finally get to hear some of what their hardcore fans have been listening to for a while now. The name change doesn’t come with a radical shift in sound – they’re still making sophisticated, jazz-influenced pop/rock music with a Latin-inspired rhythm section that is at once catchy and complex, often running through several key changes and/or time signature shifts in the middle of a verse or chorus. What’s different here is that they rely a little more on electronic keyboards, giving their sound a unique twist that sometimes helps push it into more experimental territory, and that sometimes sounds a bit cheesy and dated. Song-for-song, I don’t think this set of ten songs is quite as strong as This Is What Happens or Play with Fire, but the singles released in advance of the album, “Return to Me” and “Human Convention”, definitely do a great job of encapsulating Kindo’s attempt to take things to the next level on this album, as do the prog-rock/jam-band overtones of the closer “City of Gods”. A few gentler ballads and slightly more conventional upbeat numbers can be found here and there, but for the most part this is a record that will need to sink in over time. There’s just too much going on here to take it all in at once, and I like that even after rebranding themselves, Kindo is still committed to playing by their own rules rather than taking a calculated stab at radio-friendliness.

The Colorist Orchestra & Lisa Hannigan – The Colorist Orchestra & Lisa Hannigan
This musical collaboration, which seems to be a set of live-in-studio takes in which Irish singer/songwriter Lisa Hannigan reimagines a few of her songs chamber-pop style with a string section to support her, just appeared out of nowhere on Spotify one day, so I honestly have no idea what precipitated it or who The Colorist Orchestra even is. The results aren’t quite what you’d expect – they don’t seem to be aiming for a cinematic, soundtrack-y sort of quality, but instead there’s a lot of plucking and ominous textures coming from the stringed instruments (and occasional other instruments like pianos and even a little bit of synth), ensuring that the atmosphere of these five songs ends up quite different from their original versions. (At least, for the four songs originally from At Swim – “Nowhere to Go” is the lone track redone from an older album of Lisa’s, and I’m not familiar with the original just yet.) I like how these new versions don’t always go where I’d expect, mood-wise, especially in the extended codas of “Fall” and “Funeral Suit”, which were much simpler compositions originally. At the same time, I miss the blissful vocal overdubbing that made a few of these tracks feel special and intimate in their original versions, and if I’m honest, none of my personal favorites from At Swim are represented here – “Lo” might be too upbeat for this sort of thing, but I’d sure have loved a reworked version of “Snow” or “Prayer for the Dying” or “Tender”. I kind of wish there was a little more to this collaboration than just an EP.

Kimbra – Primal Heart
The Kiwi pop/R&B singer’s third record seems to scale back the nostalgia that permeated her first two albums quite a bit. There are probably still some touches of 80s and 90s R&B, dance, and soul music that I’m not picking up on, but a lot of these new songs seem to be more minimalist and beat-heavy, easily revealing the more modern influences behind them. I’m not all that thrilled with this approach, but I don’t hate it either. A few of the early singles like “Human” and especially “Everybody Knows” showed a lot of promise by branching out in directions I hadn’t heard Kimbra go in before, and taking in the album as a whole, I have to say there’s still a fair amount of sonic diversity and experimentation here. Kimbra is more than just a singer/songwriter – she really thinks carefully about the sonic textures that she puts on an album, and how stripped back or densely layered each track should be. So even with the more modern sound, I never doubt that she’s in full control of her art, and is trying to make meaningful music that will last longer than whatever she’d have come up with if pure mainstream appeal had been the only thing on her mind.

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