When Eric Bachmann sings, “When your dreams come true / You’ll know what to do,” to close his new album, it comes with plenty of weight behind it. No Recover, Bachmann’s third proper solo release to go along with his Crooked Fingers and Archers of Loaf work, revolves around managing expectations, most of which don’t work out. If Bachmann is ready to offer the possibility of dreams actually coming true, it’s not out naivete. Sorting out that final statement, or even accepting it as straight-faced, requires the process of an entire album.
In the case of No Recover, that process mainly comes from Bachmann on an acoustic guitar, with some programmed drums and help from ex-Archer Eric Johnson on electric guitar. With the limited orchestration and a folk-rock approach, Bachmann creates a surprisingly rich sound, his textures rolling across the album coherently if a little too comfortably. The sound typically makes for a pillowy sound, even on a song like “Waylaid”, with its reliance on straightforward finger-picking. When accompaniment comes in, it develops the initial sound, supporting the work Bachmann does before backing away.
With such a solid base, Bachmann can explore the gap between expectations and reality. “Murmuration Song” makes it plain: “Unfortunate son descended from unrealistic expectations / Mistaken to think you could have what you want.” That song provides a sharp critique of false self-conceptions and the targeted character’s self-importance. The title track reinforces the idea, with Bachmann singing, “expectations always letting you down”, but here the response doesn’t come through self-reflection but through flight.
Flight, however, doesn’t offer true help. “Wild Azalea” shows another character leaving, this time heading home on a trip that’s part of a regular oscillation. The singer and “Elizabeth” continue to “try and try until we fail”. The persistence is admirable, perhaps, but the relationship feels like an outgrowth of “Waylaid”, where there’s “no lesson to be learned from our mistake.” Bachmann’s singers struggle to find something solid, though they continue to hope that there’s something more there.
That hope never dissipates, and Bachmann’s willingness to go dark without staying there provides the strength within the album. The bright sounds of “Daylight” explain that “the story is not over” and Bachmann sings, “If you try / You can be loved.” It’s necessary to hold on to that sentiment as the album progresses, and it allows for a belief in the final track “Dead and Gone”. Now Bachmann suggests that dreams can come true, and even if he doesn’t live to see someone else reach their goals, he’ll still offer support along the way, with faith in something he’ll never see.
“Dead and Gone” brings some closure to the ambiguous opening of “Jaded Lover, Shady Drifter”, with its concerns of politics and bigger forces “staring down”. Bachmann and his jaded lover move through the desert, maybe fleeing something or maybe wandering aimlessly and emptily. The world Bachmann sees is no less “cruel” by the end of the album, but he’s found a way to make his stand, fortified by giving to another rather than by focusing on his expectations. It’s hard to tell if its reality subverted or reality ignored, but the offering doesn’t come cheap, and it carries plenty of value in its meaning.