Music

Chuck Ragan: Till Midnight

Till Midnight succeeds in both blending and separating all of the influences and styles that Chuck Ragan has gathered and groomed along the way.


Chuck Ragan

Till Midnight

Label: Side One Dummy
US Release Date: 2014-03-25
UK Release Date: 2014-03-24
Amazon
iTunes

Chuck Ragan seems to be finally figuring out how to blend his past into the direction he has been heading. The former frontman of the post-hardcore outfit Hot Water Music has released — including this one — four studio albums since going solo, but, while all being promising, they’ve all had something awkward about them. Mostly, they sounded exactly like what they were: an experienced punk rocker trying to force Americana. It might have been the aggressive acoustic strumming or the displaced, echoing harmonies, but it seemed like he couldn’t shake his past enough to get where he wanted to go.

But, Till Midnight is different. The driving drums and country-guitar lead sensibilities add a filtered power to the heavier tracks and the delicate picking and careful vocals add a subtle touch when he slows things down. Some of the tracks have the roar of rock n roll and the fierceness of punk, while others have the control and ache of country. But, the album succeeds in both blending and separating all of the influences and styles that he has gathered and groomed along the way.

With a career as long and storied as his, it seems impossible that Chuck Ragan is only 39. Not that that is necessarily young by music standards, but because he has played such an integral part in two different scenes. Hot Water’s contributions to post-hardcore are invaluable, and with his Revival Tour he bridged the gap between genres onstage, inviting a who’s who of punk, bluegrass, and alt-country on various incarnations of it. In a way he wasn’t just making a transition, but was showing it made sense to do so; that those styles played well together. Which is significant because he's making it pretty clear that the change of pace is about adapting and evolving, rather than jumping ship to exploit and profiteer off a genre on the rise.

Till Midnight is an extremely important record for Ragan. From the opener, “Something May Catch Fire”, a loud-quiet-loud energetic rocker that brings to mind Lucero, to the closer, “For All We Care”, a fingerpicked heartbreaker that explodes into a monster of a chorus, he seems so much more sure of what he’s doing. Writing lyrics have never been a problem, but arrangements have been at times. On Till Midnight, everything is so melodic and smooth, with a rough overtone that retains his character and charisma, giving the album both his signature stamp and a sense of understanding and care that have been absent from his solo work, which, at times, has been more about raw feeling.

Till Midnight is the best Chuck Ragan solo album to date. It has nothing that seems unnecessary. Or out of place. Or labored. He seems zoned in. And I can’t wait to see what’s on his horizon.

7

Cover down, pray through: Bob Dylan's underrated, misunderstood "gospel years" are meticulously examined in this welcome new installment of his Bootleg series.

"How long can I listen to the lies of prejudice?
How long can I stay drunk on fear out in the wilderness?"
-- Bob Dylan, "When He Returns," 1979

Bob Dylan's career has been full of unpredictable left turns that have left fans confused, enthralled, enraged – sometimes all at once. At the 1965 Newport Folk Festival – accompanied by a pickup band featuring Mike Bloomfield and Al Kooper – he performed his first electric set, upsetting his folk base. His 1970 album Self Portrait is full of jazzy crooning and head-scratching covers. In 1978, his self-directed, four-hour film Renaldo and Clara was released, combining concert footage with surreal, often tedious dramatic scenes. Dylan seemed to thrive on testing the patience of his fans.

Keep reading... Show less
9
TV

Inane Political Discourse, or, Alan Partridge's Parody Politics

Publicity photo of Steve Coogan courtesy of Sky Consumer Comms

That the political class now finds itself relegated to accidental Alan Partridge territory along the with rest of the twits and twats that comprise English popular culture is meaningful, to say the least.

"I evolve, I don't…revolve."
-- Alan Partridge

Alan Partridge began as a gleeful media parody in the early '90s but thanks to Brexit he has evolved into a political one. In print and online, the hopelessly awkward radio DJ from Norwich, England, is used as an emblem for incompetent leadership and code word for inane political discourse.

Keep reading... Show less

The show is called Crazy Ex-Girlfriend largely because it spends time dismantling the structure that finds it easier to write women off as "crazy" than to offer them help or understanding.

In the latest episode of Crazy Ex-Girlfriend, the CW networks' highly acclaimed musical drama, the shows protagonist, Rebecca Bunch (Rachel Bloom), is at an all time low. Within the course of five episodes she has been left at the altar, cruelly lashed out at her friends, abandoned a promising new relationship, walked out of her job, had her murky mental health history exposed, slept with her ex boyfriend's ill father, and been forced to retreat to her notoriously prickly mother's (Tovah Feldshuh) uncaring guardianship. It's to the show's credit that none of this feels remotely ridiculous or emotionally manipulative.

Keep reading... Show less
9

If space is time—and space is literally time in the comics form—the world of the novel is a temporal cage. Manuele Fior pushes at the formal qualities of that cage to tell his story.

Manuele Fior's 5,000 Km Per Second was originally published in 2009 and, after winning the Angouléme and Lucca comics festivals awards in 2010 and 2011, was translated and published in English for the first time in 2016. As suggested by its title, the graphic novel explores the effects of distance across continents and decades. Its love triangle begins when the teenaged Piero and his best friend Nicola ogle Lucia as she moves into an apartment across the street and concludes 20 estranged years later on that same street. The intervening years include multiple heartbreaks and the one second phone delay Lucia in Norway and Piero in Egypt experience as they speak while 5,000 kilometers apart.

Keep reading... Show less
7

Featuring a shining collaboration with Terry Riley, the Del Sol String Quartet have produced an excellent new music recording during their 25 years as an ensemble.

Dark Queen Mantra, both the composition and the album itself, represent a collaboration between the Del Sol String Quartet and legendary composer Terry Riley. Now in their 25th year, Del Sol have consistently championed modern music through their extensive recordings (11 to date), community and educational outreach efforts, and performances stretching from concert halls and the Library of Congress to San Francisco dance clubs. Riley, a defining figure of minimalist music, has continually infused his compositions with elements of jazz and traditional Indian elements such as raga melodies and rhythms. Featuring two contributions from Riley, as well as one from former Riley collaborator Stefano Scodanibbio, Dark Queen Mantra continues Del Sol's objective of exploring new avenues for the string quartet format.

Keep reading... Show less
9
Pop Ten
Mixed Media
PM Picks

© 1999-2017 Popmatters.com. All rights reserved.
Popmatters is wholly independently owned and operated.

rating-image