Music

Ryan Adams: 29

Zeth Lundy

Adams completes his promised hat trick of album releases for 2005 with this more subdued and reflective follow-up to Cold Roses and Jacksonville City Nights.


Ryan Adams

29

Label: Lost Highway
US Release Date: 2005-12-20
UK Release Date: 2005-12-19
Amazon affiliate
Amazon
iTunes

He cut it close — literally down to the wire — but with 29, Ryan Adams delivers his third new album of 2005. It seems that, for the first time in his 10-year career, Adams's release schedule has finally caught up with his prolific output.

29 will take many by surprise, as both Rock N Roll and Love Is Hell surprised upon their release; it abruptly ends (for now, at least) his alt-country renaissance incited early this year by Cold Roses and Jacksonville City Nights. The songs (performed only by Adams with producer Ethan Johns and the Cardinals' J.P. Bowersock) are stripped down and unrefined, often harking back to the hazy folk of Heartbreaker's "Amy". They aren't necessarily experimental, but meandering and indulgent (some even hit the seven- and eight-minute marks) with liberal excursions into soul searching, storytelling, and atmosphere painting.

Adams's efforts often feel like wheels grinding over and over in a series of stubborn places, the very repetition of which, by the grace of mathematical odds, occasionally yields worthwhile results. The soft country shuffle "Carolina Rain" is Adams at his best and most obvious (perhaps, at this point, we can't have one without the other). Though at eight minutes it's far too long, "Strawberry Wine" is quite gorgeous even if it seems structurally lost — the rich, somewhat hallucinatory imagery ("Strawberry wine in clouds / Burning in the desert surrounded by flowers") combined with the song's organic instrumentation grounds impressionism into emotional resonance. And the second half of the hulking piano ballad "Night Birds" is subjected to an unexpected undertow of echo and decaying feedback. The song changes in an instant, sunk by studio torpedoes, and the effect is the album's most adventurous and rewarding moment.

But mostly, 29 is inhabited by half-formed or downright failed songs that never get comfortable in the reductive environment. "29" is the album's sole shitkickin' electric countrybilly tune, a look back at a song like "To Be Young (Is to Be Sad, Is to Be High)" from experience's perspective. It contains none of its predecessor's firecracker intensity, instead recycling the Grateful Dead's "Truckin'" and spinning yawning yarns about drugs, arrests, and a young man's nonchalance. "Elizabeth, You Were Born to Play That Part", a performance in need of resuscitation that rewards with a slight instrumental coda, never quite lives up to its superb Morrissey-esque title. "The Sadness", a sweeping spaghetti western fiasco (I'm not kidding), is probably the record's greatest embarrassment — let's just say the desperado troubadour stance isn't all that becoming.

The music on 29 reflects the title's numerical proximity to Adams's age when it was recorded; these songs feel like the remnants of a premature confrontation with mortality, a creative clearinghouse, or a concerted paddle stroke to push beyond certain impulses. There are profound concepts and slumbering truths that Adams is eager to excavate here, but the task at hand may be too large to grapple with. The continued lyrical allusions to water — people falling into bays and oceans, calls to the clouds to ease their heavy burdens — suggest, perhaps subconsciously, an artistic rebirth through the shedding of the past (hence Adams's indulgence in rootsy music throughout the year). If that's a sign that the best is still yet to come, then 29 could be the messy residue that a major transition leaves behind.

5

From genre-busting electronic music to new highs in the ever-evolving R&B scene, from hip-hop and Americana to rock and pop, 2017's music scenes bestowed an embarrassment of riches upon us.


60. White Hills - Stop Mute Defeat (Thrill Jockey)

White Hills epic '80s callback Stop Mute Defeat is a determined march against encroaching imperial darkness; their eyes boring into the shadows for danger but they're aware that blinding lights can kill and distort truth. From "Overlord's" dark stomp casting nets for totalitarian warnings to "Attack Mode", which roars in with the tribal certainty that we can survive the madness if we keep our wits, the record is a true and timely win for Dave W. and Ego Sensation. Martin Bisi and the poster band's mysterious but relevant cool make a great team and deliver one of their least psych yet most mind destroying records to date. Much like the first time you heard Joy Division or early Pigface, for example, you'll experience being startled at first before becoming addicted to the band's unique microcosm of dystopia that is simultaneously corrupting and seducing your ears. - Morgan Y. Evans

Keep reading... Show less

Under the lens of cultural and historical context, as well as understanding the reflective nature of popular culture, it's hard not to read this film as a cautionary tale about the limitations of isolationism.

I recently spoke to a class full of students about Plato's "Allegory of the Cave". Actually, I mentioned Plato's "Allegory of the Cave" by prefacing that I understood the likelihood that no one had read it. Fortunately, two students had, which brought mild temporary relief. In an effort to close the gap of understanding (perhaps more a canyon or uncanny valley) I made the popular quick comparison between Plato's often cited work and the Wachowski siblings' cinema spectacle, The Matrix. What I didn't anticipate in that moment was complete and utter dissociation observable in collective wide-eyed stares. Example by comparison lost. Not a single student in a class of undergraduates had partaken of The Matrix in all its Dystopic future shock and CGI kung fu technobabble philosophy. My muted response in that moment: Whoa!

Keep reading... Show less
9

The year in song reflected the state of the world around us. Here are the 70 songs that spoke to us this year.

70. The Horrors - "Machine"

On their fifth album V, the Horrors expand on the bright, psychedelic territory they explored with Luminous, anchoring the ten new tracks with retro synths and guitar fuzz freakouts. "Machine" is the delicious outlier and the most vitriolic cut on the record, with Faris Badwan belting out accusations to the song's subject, who may even be us. The concept of alienation is nothing new, but here the Brits incorporate a beautiful metaphor of an insect trapped in amber as an illustration of the human caught within modernity. Whether our trappings are technological, psychological, or something else entirely makes the statement all the more chilling. - Tristan Kneschke

Keep reading... Show less
Books

'The Art of Confession' Ties Together Threads of Performance

Allen Ginsberg and Robert Lowell at St. Mark's Church in New York City, 23 February 1977

Scholar Christopher Grobe crafts a series of individually satisfying case studies, then shows the strong threads between confessional poetry, performance art, and reality television, with stops along the way.

Tracing a thread from Robert Lowell to reality TV seems like an ominous task, and it is one that Christopher Grobe tackles by laying out several intertwining threads. The history of an idea, like confession, is only linear when we want to create a sensible structure, the "one damn thing after the next" that is the standing critique of creating historical accounts. The organization Grobe employs helps sensemaking.

Keep reading... Show less
9

Alt-rock heroes the Foo Fighters deliver a three-hour blast of rock power that defies modern norms.

It's a Saturday night in Sacramento and the downtown area around the swank new Golden 1 Center is buzzing as if people are waiting for a spaceship to appear because the alt-rock heroes known as the Foo Fighters are in town. Dave Grohl and his band of merry mates have carried the torch for 20th-century rock 'n' roll here in the next millennium like few others, consistently cranking out one great guitar-driven album after another while building a cross-generational appeal that enables them to keep selling out arenas across America.

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

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

rating-image