Quoth John Ridgard, the male half of this English duo: “The sound of an album to me has more to do with the production than the song writing.” So it is that it’s Soft Friday’s overall vibe and not any one particular cut or lyric that has made the album a pick to click among the indie crowd. What is that vibe exactly? A reverb-drenched homage to the daydreams and nightmares of the everyday female cohabitant as given mysterious, ectoplasmic voice by Coves’ female half, Beck Wood.
Randall Poster has taken his soundtrack-supervising task seriously, aiming for music that embodies a “deteriorating” future like the one dramatized in Divergent the film. He could’ve just signed up the world’s dozen top-selling pop acts and let capitalism take its course. What he ended up with: tracks by Woodkid, Banks, Snow Patrol, Zedd, M83, Skrillex and KillaGraham, and Big Deal that make his future sound somewhat exciting, four by Ellie Goulding that make it sound dull, and three featuring rappers that overemphasize the deterioration.
Mike and Katie West are a quirky, country-folk-purveying married couple with New Orleans roots and a shared gimlet-eyed vision of the joys and trials of wealth-oblivious domesticity. This album’s masterpiece, “A Home Is Not a Hotel,” is worthy of Loudon Wainwright III. But it’s X’s John Doe and Exene Cervenka whom the Wests most recall. The difference: Whereas for X the trailer-park affectations were just another arrow in their punk quiver, for the nonpunk Wests they’re not affectations (or unfunny) at all.
Merrill Garbus sings and chants dithyrambic vernacular-mashing word collages to complex music of post-ironic, neo-primitive catchiness, intent on staying several steps ahead of even the most avant-garde listener. Rapid-fire hooks emerge, vanish, and re-emerge. Sounds collide and recede. Giddiness pervades both her wisdom and her nonsense. Not until the track called “Interlude: Why Must We Dine on the Tots?” does Garbus let her guard down, revealing her chief influences (whether she admits them or not) to be Laurie Anderson and Roald Dahl.
What people mean when they call Neil Young “perverse” is that he’s self-contradictory in ways so extreme that it’s almost impossible to take him seriously anymore except as a deliberately expectations-defying performance artist. His latest act is following his rollout of a high-fidelity digital music-listening platform with A Letter Home (Reprise/Third Man), an acoustic lo-fi album of other people’s folkie hits recorded in an old-fashioned make-your-own-record booth.
Even more perverse is that A Letter Home—its grating clicks, pops, and pitch-shifting included—works as a look into Young’s favorite non–Neil Young songs and songwriters. That the latter include Bob Dylan, Phil Ochs, Tim Hardin, and Bert Jansch is hardly news. That Gordon Lightfoot and Willie Nelson show up twice, however, and Ivory Joe Hunter and the Everly Brothers at all deserves a headline. Most perverse: that Young’s spoken “letter” to his long-deceased mother is the runaway highlight.