I remember wanting to grow up.
This is such an old man thing to say, but I didn’t know how good I had it when I didn’t have any pressing responsibilities. The worst thing I had to do at 10 years old was learn fractions. Now it seems like I need another seven or eight hours each day just to catch up with what I haven’t done. I’m having a pretty busy few weeks at work, which is translating into 12-hour days and a million emails and exhaustion and a chest cough that won’t go away.
What does this mean for you, assuming you couldn’t care less about my health? Well, one thing I haven’t had time to do is listen to and properly absorb new music. It’s coming out faster than I can process it – I have about a dozen albums from the last month that I haven’t heard yet, and this week I know there are about a dozen more coming my way. I’m trying to clear time in my schedule to listen, form thoughts and write about them, but it’s tough.
So I need a get-ahead week, and this is it. I’m going to abandon the idea that I need to be among the first to talk about new music – I have totally missed the conversation about Kendrick Lamar’s Untitled Unmastered, which I still have only heard once. I’m going to get to these when I get to these. Don’t be surprised if you see something from a month ago featured in this column. I didn’t start TM3AM to be on the cutting edge of music criticism, I started it to chronicle my life as an obsessive listener, and right now, that means being honest about getting to things late, and not reviewing them until I’m ready.
This also means I’m scrapping last week’s column, which I’ve been working on in bits and pieces for the last eight days, and calling it next week’s column. It’ll be a good one when I finish it – I’m tying together Sean Watkins, Little Green Cars and Cloud Cult into a treatise on hope. (Man, that sounds lofty. It’ll really just be three reviews.) I’m still working on it, but it will get out there. I hope to have reviews of Bob Mould and The Joy Formidable to join those soon.
I don’t want to leave you high and dry this week, so here’s one short review and, because it’s that time again, my First Quarter Report. Hopefully I’ll be back at full strength next week. Thanks for understanding, and for reading.
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As I mentioned above, I’ve been pretty tired of being an adult lately. That’s one reason I have been waiting for the new album by one of my favorite candy-coated pop bands, The Feeling. I’ve been sporadically listening to their first couple – the delightful Twelve Stops and Home and the enormous clockwork bubble gum factory that is Join With Us – in anticipation, and they’ve been filling me with joy, as usual.
But man, has this band grown up. They’ve self-titled their fifth album, and adorned it with a blurry sepia-toned photo, and it’s exactly the mature piece of work such things would lead you to expect. Truth be told, they made this transition an album ago, with the slow and stately Boy Cried Wolf, but here they fully come into their own as a serious band with serious ambitions. And even though I’m not quite in the headspace to appreciate maturity at the moment, this record won me over.
Unlike the meticulously crafted pop with which they made their name, The Feeling was recorded live in the studio, with minimal overdubbing, in only 15 days. That’s really laying it out there – you’re not allowed to suck if you record live – but the energy does these songs justice. Like Boy Cried Wolf, the tunes on The Feeling are often slower and simpler, but here they build to cathartic crescendos, leader Dan Sells pulling out an unrestrained scream on occasion that, surprisingly, doesn’t totally embarrass him.
The new Feeling template takes less from 10cc and more from Neil Finn, which is a nice tradeoff. Opener “Wicked Heart” is so repetitive it’s almost a mantra, but its we-just-started-strumming-this feel gives it a jolt. “Spiralling” is a lovely piece of music, one that could fit on a Crowded House album. The six-minute “Feel Something” is the best example of how recording these songs live has energized them – the song starts as an electric piano lament (“I want to touch, I want to taste, I want to feel something…”), but unfolds, growing and growing without really changing much, until by the end, it’s gigantic, guitars crashing and Sells shouting at the top of his lungs.
Those are the first three songs, and they set the mood – Sells is heartbroken, and the music follows suit. If you know the Feeling from their “Never Be Lonely” and “I Love It When You Call” days, this will be a shock, as will driving-through-dark-tunnels songs like “Real Deal.” The album only rarely quickens the pace, and when it does, it misfires: “Non-Stop American” and “Alien” are slight, if danceable, while “Young Things” is one of the worst Feeling songs – it’s entirely about being out of touch with the younger generation, but instead of coming off as knowingly ironic, it has a touch of creepy grandpa about it. (“I love the shit they say, I love the games they play…”)
Thankfully, there are more than enough terrific, serious-minded songs to make up for those. “Repeat to Fade” is an epic, shifting from slinky piano to crashing guitars in an instant. “Shadow Boxer” is another, this one as beautiful as anything the band has done, and “What’s the Secret” continues the lovely low-key vibe. Closer “Sleep Tight” returns to the dirge-like feel of “Wicked Heart,” but more soothing and easygoing.
It’s an interesting transition from rainbows to rain, but The Feeling have pulled it off. This self-titled album, for the most part, is a great example of how to grow up without growing stale. They were right to self-title it, as it feels to me like the start of the second chapter of this band, a complete change of identity that fits them just as well as the first. And I guess if they can be adults, then I can too, and I hope to do it with as much grace as this band shows in their finest moments here.
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All right, time for the First Quarter Report. This is basically what my top 10 list would look like if I were forced to publish it now. You’ll see a couple in here that I haven’t reviewed yet, so consider this my recommendation. Here’s the list:
10. Shearwater, Jet Plane and Oxbow.
9. The Feeling.
8. Daughter, Not to Disappear.
7. Kendrick Lamar, Untitled Unmastered.
6. Ray Lamontagne, Ouroboros.
5. Sean Watkins, What to Fear.
4. Gungor, One Wild Life: Spirit.
3. Anderson Paak, Malibu.
2. David Bowie, Blackstar.
1. Esperanza Spalding, Emily’s D+Evolution.
That’s a pretty diverse list, and while I don’t expect most of these to hang on for the next nine months, there are some gems here. We’ll see what the board looks like in June.
Next week, see above. Follow Tuesday Morning 3 A.M. on Facebook here.
See you in line Tuesday morning.