Eric Church – Desperate Man
Country music star Eric Church had a couple of brushes with death last year. There was a health scare that required lifesaving surgery, and the Nashville-based 41-year-old was also one of the headlining acts at Route 91 Festival, where the Las Vegas shooting took place.
When he went back into the studio, feeling burnt out and not ready to record a full album, he wrote “Desperate Man” – a sonic ode to “Sympathy for the Devil”, and the song that would become the title track for his first record since 2015’s surprise release Mr Misunderstood.
With longtime producer Jay Joyce, who has produced every one of Church’s albums since 2001’s debut Sinners Like Me, he offers up beautifully crafted country that uses rock, gospel and blues influences to push gently at the genre’s boundaries: sweet guitar licks, thrashing drums and Church’s voice straining at the top end of his range.
On “Monsters”, he sings about getting over a childhood fear of creatures beneath the bed, before realising that life as an adult invites its own terrors. Closing track “Drowning Man” – Church’s hymn for the overlooked people of America – features gorgeous harmonies between him and longtime backing vocalist Joanna Cotton, and sees its narrator seek comfort in a bar among the folk who break their backs trying to make an honest living.
Church has always fit with the classic image of the underdog, but Desperate Man has a grit that didn’t resonate so much on his previous albums. He seems to relish in the freedom to express his distaste at the current discourse in America: “Everybody wants me to think like they do, put my faith in something new,” he sings on “Solid”. Country music’s renegade rarely does anything by the book, and in times like these, you feel all the more grateful for him.
Estrons – You Say I’m Too Much, I Say You’re Not Enough
Estrons, whose name means “aliens”, or “strangers” in Welsh, have plenty to say on their debut album. And they don’t pull any punches.
You Say I’m Too Much, I Say You’re Not Enough opens to chaos – unsurprising if you’d been a fly on the wall during the band’s recording process. Frontwoman Tali Kallstrom has been blunt about her creative clashes with guitarist Rhodri Daniel, who is the cool, meticulous opposite of her fierce, wild personality. Fortunately, it makes the record what it is.
Set against Kallstrom’s impatient, hurricane-like delivery is sharp, polished production that doesn’t sacrifice clarity for the album’s grunge-rock feel. The instrumentation buzzes restlessly on “Lilac”, with Kallstrom’s waspish vocals spitting angrily through the squalling guitar. “Jesus...” is more controlled, ebbing and flowing with each build to the chorus.
There are two tracks titled after those varying interpretations of the band name: “Strangers” feels like a song about self-worth, but really, it’s the narrator asking someone else to “take me as I am”, instead of forcing them to become something they’re not.
If there is a recurring theme on this album, it’s rage. The band seem perpetually angry: they shout and sneer at misogynists, fragile male egos and themselves. No one is safe from the firing line, and that’s a big part of the fun.
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