Son Volt have made a career of producing pensive alt-country songs that get you singing along. Trace still stands as the band’s hallmark album, but that was a couple of decades ago, and the band never stopped making songs to make you think and sing.
Last year was the 25th anniversary of Trace, and instead of celebrating that album, Jay Farrar, like the rest of us, was stuck indoors. It’s not an ideal setting for anyone, but it did give Farrar and the other members of Son Volt plenty of time to think and develop the new album Electro Melodier. The result examines and protests our society and provides words of hope and optimism for making it through tough times.
Of the new album, Farrar said, “I had more time to devote to and concentrate on the writing. We were fortunate in that we had just released Union and toured the country, so we were off cycle. It was still a rough year, but as a songwriter, I was able to make the most of it.” He was indeed.
Electro Melodier was certainly shaped by the events of the last year and a half. “The Globe” provides a good example. The melody is something like Beatles meets alt-country while the lyrics paint a vivid picture. Farrar sings “You can sense it on the street – pushing back at authority. You can see it everywhere. Change is in the air.” It gives the listener the image of recent protesters standing for their principles and against authority.
“Living in the USA” has the feel of a Drive-By Truckers song. It takes an earnest look at American society and asks some poignant questions about how it operates. Farrar provides a good summary when he sings, “This land of freedom, all can live the dream, they say, with voices crying out and sirens wailing away.” Meanwhile, the melody is vintage Son Volt and just as good as anything you remember from Trace.
While it was influenced by a lot of traumatic events, this isn’t a hopeless album. “Lucky Ones” provides some optimism through all the headlines of the last year and a half. The organ throughout this song has something of a gospel feel. The message of the song is to fight your way through our changing world because there is “so much worth fighting for.” Another part of the message is that if you have friends to care for, you’re lucky. This is a good song to enjoy when you’re having a rough day and a good one to pass along to someone you know could be having a better day.
Electro Melodier by Son Volt is a lot of what you’ve always loved about the band. They give you melodies that are perfect for dark, cramped clubs. At the same time, Farrar provides thought-provoking lyrics. This album isn’t a scathing indictment of American society. Rather, it poses questions that are well worth considering.