Arts, Music

LaMontagne’s Folk Album ‘Supernova’ Outshines Past Work

3 Stars
Supernova is a solid blending of blues, folk, psychedelic, and rock, a concoction of old school sounds mixed with an almost childlike freedom. The record is the fifth from 40-year-old singer-songwriter Ray LaMontagne. The 10-track record is a follow up to the 2010 album God Willin’ & the Creek Don’t Rise, by LaMontagne and the Pariah Dogs, which won a Grammy for Best Contemporary Folk Album. Despite the newfound recognition from his previous project, the indie artist later revealed to Rolling Stone that he was actually considering leaving his career in music, depressed from his own self-doubt. Fortunately, LaMontagne has clearly bounced back with a vivacious record that contains some of his most upbeat and explorative songs to date. Dan Auerbach-renowned guitarist of The Black Keys-produced the record.

The opening track, “Lavender,” perfectly captures a floating springtime haze and sets an excellent precedent for the rest of the record. While tracks such as “Ojai” may be a little more folksy and down to earth, much of the album is absolutely mesmerizing with spacey, fuzzy, and trippy reverberations that maintain a healthy balance between energetic and laid-back. Even the more dreary content found in songs such as “Pick Up a Gun”-which basically focuses on a one-sided romance-still retains its buoyant contentment. Even as LaMontagne rasps “I never want to see your face again,” the high spirit of his work is not lost. To put it plainly, this is feel-good music. As LaMontagne himself said while describing his new work: “Fun is a trite word. I kind of hate to use it-but at the same time, I don’t know how else to say it.”

What stands out about Supernova is how smoothly it adds and removes atmospheric layers, keeping each song feeling fresh while maintaining a seamless pace. Reoccurring keyboard melodies, fleeting guitar licks, and harmonizing vocals drift in and out so naturally that the effect is often hypnotic and revitalizing. Some break-ups are transitory moments of sheer ecstasy. This doesn’t quite remain consistent throughout the entire album, however. Although some variations may appear in songs like “Smashing,” it isn’t always enough to keep the song alive, rendering it a bit repetitive after a few listens. While obviously debatable, the noticeable downside to such rapid refreshing moments is that they may be almost a little too brief, making them rather difficult to really latch onto and take in. This may unfortunately make such flashes not quite as memorable as they were enjoyable.

Most of the songs-unsurprisingly, given their vibe-gravitate around some girl or another (“She’s the One,” “Julia,” and “Supernova,” to name a few) while offering hints of nostalgia and sporadic dashes of introspection. The lyrics themselves are rather straightforward and simple, sometimes generic, but consistently well-executed by LaMontagne’s superb cadence. Indeed, he manages to alter his delivery of the lyrics even when reusing the same exact words, giving them a fresh touch. The instrumentation, while very solid, does get mildly redundant by the second half of Supernova, as certain riffs and arrangements begin to sound just a little bit interchangeable, particularly with the acoustic rhythms. While the later part of Supernova is still very enjoyable, it doesn’t seem to quite match up the catchiness and momentum of the earlier tracks.

Although there are scarcely any glaring issues with Supernova, one could hardly call it a timeless classic-there simply isn’t enough that’s profoundly striking or original. In all fairness, Supernova by no means pretentiously attempts to reinvent the wheel. It effectively achieves its aim, that is, to provide fans with a fun, uplifting record, the kind that makes you just want to enjoy life. One can only imagine how even more energetic and gratifying most of Supernova‘s track list will be when played live.

May 1, 2014