Album reviews: Father John Misty, Juliana Daugherty, Roger Daltrey, Ben Howard
Father John Misty
God's Favourite Customer
Only a year since his previous album, Father John Misty's new record God's Favourite Customer is yet more evidence that he is one of his generation's foremost songwriters. Josh Tillman, to give him his real name, is another in a long line of artists running from Bob Dylan and Leonard Cohen to Sufjan Stevens and Rufus Wainwright, men who spin stories across any combination of keys, guitars and sweeping string arrangements with a dry wit, underlying melancholy and timeless musical tone. Yet throughout this new record – variously described as a "heartache album" or about "misadventure" – he never seems to break a sweat. Perhaps the fact the songs tumbled out of the former Fleet Foxes drummer during a six-week stint spent living in a hotel is evidence that this was a record Tillman needed to make, a demon to exorcise, rather than a concerted effort to explore new musical territory. The world better be ready when he really wants to shake things up.
What a beautiful voice Juliana Daugherty possesses. It's like honey oozing, spilling gently over the twanging of guitar strings, all songbird softness and subtlety but with the power to hypnotise without warning. The singer-songwriter and multi-instrumentalist from Charlottesville, Virginia, lays out her most intimate feelings on this vulnerable, haunting album, largely using disarmingly delicate music while undressing the issues around mental illness. "I wrote this record partly to strip mental illness of its power," Daugherty says, adding that "there is nothing useful or beautiful to be gleaned from the experience of depression". However, while touching on such topics, she has produced a body of work that could certainly be described as beautiful. Title track Light makes for a striking piece of work, while Easier is a truly gorgeous ballad, her vocals towering above all else on the album. The album feels like one long track, each one blending into the next, but it's a pleasant journey that begs you to dig deeper, listen harder and feel something.
As Long As I Have You
Other veteran singers must listen with envy to the astonishing vocal control and power that Roger Daltrey is able to command. The Who frontman is joined by guitarist Pete Townshend as he returns to his soul music beginnings, when the band started out playing in small church halls. Two new tracks are nestled in between covers of some of Daltrey's favourite songs. The 74-year-old completely owns some of these re-workings. His soulful howl soars over honking horns and hot guitar licks during a barnstorming rendition of Stevie Wonder's You Haven't Done Nothin'. A more unusual choice is Nick Cave's sombre Into My Arms. Daltrey offers a version of the song that is too similar to the original. Even his delivery seems to mimic the Australian singer, which prompts unfavourable comparisons. Daltrey's vocal abilities belie his age. However on the album's closer, self-penned tear-jerker Always Heading Home, a lifetime's worth of memories are audible in his voice.
Ben Howard's third LP is an album crying out for a chorus. The Brit-winning, Mercury-nominated British folk musician has continued his journey into the sonic textures he explored on his last album. These textures can be beautiful, but lack direction. Opening Nica Libres At Dusk sets the pace nicely, The Defeat is an interesting experiment in electronica, and lead single A Boat To An Island On The Wall evens finds a groove in its second verse. But many tracks follow the format of end track Murmurations, with the music desperate to become epic at any moment, but instead forced to stay in the sonic sludge. Foals and Bon Iver have explored similar sound territory, but Noonday Dream lacks the singalong moments that make their best work shine. Overall, the albums feels like the desert Howard finds himself in on the cover; atmospheric certainly, but it could really do with a few flowers to break up the landscape.