To guide your summer getaway book selections, try this formula: E=FB²
I Need a New War
The pleasures of these intimately observed vignettes are primarily verbal—“You travel your whole life / just to get out to the place you’re gonna die” is a real attention-getter. But the murky mix gives up details too—soulful horns, keening organs, telltale heartbeats. The stakes reach their peak in “Grant at Galena,” in which a modern-day Ulysses S. fights a losing war of ontological attrition. The connection between that warfare and the cover art remains implicit. But that cross is a real attention-getter too.
In League With Dragons
The Mountain Goats
The guitars are back. Yet whether acoustic or pedal steel, they’re quiet enough not to encroach on the trials and tribulations of the latest cast of characters from whose points of view John Darnielle writes: Ozzy Osbourne, Dwight Gooden, a homicide detective with a strong stomach, and—in what’s surely a first—a possum as alert to the gospel as he is to the likelihood that he can end up as roadkill. The funniest lines are the saddest and vice versa. And somehow every single one rings true.
Ritter’s his own man and all, but, for what it’s worth, this commendable album’s weakest cut and its strongest bear more than a passing resemblance to Dylan’s “My Back Pages” and “It’s Alright, Ma” respectively. The weakest is “All Some Kind of Dream,” a plea for immigration anarchy that, despite (or maybe because of) its allusion to Matthew 25:40, even Emma Lazarus might’ve considered heavy-handed. The strongest is “The Torch Committee.” In it, a judge with a comatose conscience lays down the law. Kafka would’ve understood.
Young in My Head
If the data that Jason Martin provides in this album’s super-catchy title track is accurate, he’s 47. Hence his amazement at feeling “just 28” and, by extension, at having a son who, at 16, is now old enough to be his drummer. And he’s a good one, punching up the intimations of mortality that increasingly haunt his father’s songs. The overall effect is salutary as shoegaze goes. Only on “Crash,” which borrows Blue Öyster Cult’s most famous melody, does Martin’s awareness of the Reaper taint with fear.
The composer-saxophonist Andy Mackay (pronounced McKye) is best known for having been a member of Roxy Music, a pop-savvy art-rock band whose albums and singles consistently occupied the upper reaches of the 1970s and ’80s British charts and whose music, even at its most ethereal, gave off a decidedly worldly-wise vibe. Against such a backdrop, the thoroughgoing sacredness of Mackay’s latest long-in-the-works project is not only surprising but perhaps miraculous as well.
For one thing, everything about it is Biblical, from its title (3 Psalms) and its contents (portions of Psalms 130, 90, and 150 sung mostly in English but with Hebrew and Latin mixed in) to its label (Good Deeds Music) and its running time (33 minutes). More importantly, every detail of Mackay’s multi-layered approach, from the friendly unpretentiousness of the singing (Harry Day-Lewis and south London’s Owl Parliament Choir) to the aspirational unpretentiousness of the music, serves the texts. —A.O.