Totally Mild: Sense Of A Woman

Melbourne’s Totally Mild comes of age with Her

Her is an album about being a woman—knowing women intimately, relating to them, dating them and feeling isolated from them,” says Elizabeth Mitchell, lead singer, songwriter and bandleader of Melbourne’s Totally Mild. “Many women feature in the songs on Her: me, my mother, my wife, exes and friends. It’s about how being socialized as a woman can teach you to doubt yourself, to take on certain specific roles, and how hard it is for me to leave those learned behaviors behind. My wife says it’s a coming-of-age album, wrestling with the idea that I actually have to be an adult at some point.”

For Her (Chapter Music), Mitchell and band—guitarist Zachary Schneider, bassist Lehmann Smith and drummer Ashley Bundang—set out to make elaborate pop music, utilizing everything producer James Cecil (Architecture In Helsinki) had in the studio. (Bundang has since been replaced by Dylan Young.)

“We played with lots of new sounds from synthesizers and other instruments we didn’t use on the first album,” says Mitchell. “We spent three days altogether doing the basic tracking live, and six months of adding to that. A large chunk of making the record was Zach, James and me spending hours in the studio trying things out and throwing them away.”

The songs on the quartet’s sophomore album explore unruly emotions with Mitchell’s ardent vocals supported by the band’s nuanced work. “Pearl” describes the subtle passion of true love with shimmering chords, glistening slide-guitar textures and a steady backbeat, while “Today Tonight” rides a subtle reggae-like pulse to express the longing for a lover who will never return.

“The songs are autobiographical, but not all of them are sad,” says Mitchell. “I just have a way of making things that are happy sound sad. Maybe it’s that duality of being objectively happy and chronically depressed.”

—j. poet

UNDER THE INFLUENCE WITH ELIZABETH MITCHELL

Aldous Harding
“I am completely obsessed with Party, the record she put out last year. It’s such a strange and emotionally impactful album. I saw her play at Meredith Music Festival in December. What a force!”

Walking Around
“My car exploded. I drove it from Melbourne to Queensland, and it gave up. That’s influencing my experience of the Melbourne summer. It’s really hot, and I have to walk everywhere. It’s nice to listen to more music on my headphones, I guess.”

Hexdebt
“They’re a very good punk band from Melbourne. Look them up. They’re young, angry and very powerful.”

Wild Beasts: Going Out In Style

Britain’s Wild Beasts end their 15-year career with a live-in-the-studio LP

Leaving on a high note was of paramount importance to George Costanza in that hilarious Seinfeld episode where he kept getting out-quipped by everyone at his board meetings. But the concept means even more to Hayden Thorpe, who last year stunned fans by announcing that his British art-rock ensemble Wild Beasts was amicably disbanding after 15 years and five classy albums, just when it was at the top of its game.

The Beasts are doing it in grand style, with a posthumous, catalog-spanning live disc, Last Night All My Dreams Came True (Domino), recorded over a two-day session at London’s RAK Studios. “I’m a big believer in only having a finite amount of anything allotted to you,” says Thorpe, chuckling at the Seinfeld reference. “When you realize you’re getting to the last gleam of this particular allowance, you spend it frugally, or you just make sure that it counts.”

To outsiders, breaking up after your most inventive record—2016’s Boy King—might seem a radical, or at least unusual, career choice. But to Thorpe and his three bandmates (guitarist Ben Little, bassist Tom Fleming and drummer Chris Talbot), it made perfect instinctual sense. Surprisingly, everyone was on the same quit-while-we’re-ahead page. “So there were two meetings,” he says. “One was the day after our Boy King world tour, where there had been an elephant in the room that had slowly inflated to the point of someone finally needing to name that bloody beast.”

But the more serious summit followed at the end of 2016 at a café in the tiny Lake District hamlet of Kendal, where they had grown up together. “I remember finding it quite difficult to speak that morning—I really had to cough the words out because they were sticking in my throat,” says the usually loquacious singer. “As anyone who’s been through a breakup knows, the moment you make that decision and it becomes irreversible, there’s a release of energy that just floods your mind with exhilaration, sadness, the full quota. It was all hung on the collective belief that it was right.”

From its Britpop-defying 2004 debut, Limbo Panto, there was truly no other U.K. outfit quite like Wild Beasts. Little’s moody, evocative textures almost bordered on prog and helped buffet aloft Thorpe’s remarkable voice to typically falsetto heights. (If you liken the group to Peter Gabriel-era Genesis, creatively speaking, you can easily imagine a Gabriel-sophisticated solo career for Thorpe, who vows to keep writing and recording.) So the farewell Last Night document—which features chestnuts like “Hooting And Hollering” alongside more danceable recent cuts “Big Cat” and “Alpha Female”—was the most triumphant high note on which to leave.

“It was just the four of us in a live room,” says Thorpe. “Over the past post-breakup year, we had been playing together just for its own sake, no other obligation, and I think we just got better and better because of that. So we thought it was important to capture this moment, where we were as fluid a creature as we’d ever been.”

—Tom Lanham

Superchunk: Mac Takes The Wheel

How Superchunk streamlined its songwriting process

Our Noise, John Cook’s excellent oral history of Merge Records written with Mac McCaughan and Laura Ballance, has a chapter describing a somewhat contentious period for Superchunk (circa 1994’s Foolish) when Ballance and Jim Wilbur began to bristle at McCaughan’s creative control. Fast forward 25 years, and with children to raise, businesses to run and other bands to play in, having McCaughan create the blueprint is a welcome relief, at least to Wilbur.

“Before, we would go into a room together, the four of us, and no one would have any idea what was happening,” he says. “We would all just play things. We would coalesce the parts we were hearing into songs. Now, Mac takes everything on himself and does that, but it doesn’t feel like he’s dictating anything. When we get together, we don’t have to go through all that jamming. We skip all the time that would’ve been taken to get where we’re going to be anyway. It’s quick because we all know each other and trust each other. Sometimes Mac will send a file and I’ll listen to it and I’ll be like, ‘Is that high part what you think I should be playing?’ He’s like, ‘I just threw that down there, because that’s what I imagined you would play.’ We definitely read each other’s minds.”

McCaughan agrees: “One luxury of playing with the same people for so long is that, if I’m just writing the first part of the song—or the rhythm guitar where I’m just playing chords and thinking about vocal melodies—because we’ve played together for so long, I can already hear what it’s going to sound like with everyone else playing. I just kind of know what everyone’s instincts are and what works.”

—Matt Ryan

Superchunk: Pretty Hate Machine

Indie-rock institution Superchunk tempers a grim worldview with uplifting punk melodies

Given the subject matter of Superchunk’s 11th record, it’s an appropriate coincidence that MAGNET happens to be speaking with singer/guitarist/primary songwriter Mac McCaughan on the anniversary of the United States inaugurating an orangutan with no impulse control to the highest office in the land.

“After the election last year, I wrote to a friend and said, ‘This is worse than Reagan, right?’” says McCaughan. “Because Reagan was terrible, and that was certainly the establishment that hardcore bands were often singing about when I was growing up in the early ’80s. But this just seemed way worse, for some reason. I was wondering if it was just because I’m older and just know more, having to experience the ramifications more, having kids, etc. I think it is worse.”

With tongue planted firmly in cheek, Superchunk’s latest is dubbed What A Time To Be Alive (Merge), its title track lamenting “the scum, the shame, the fucking lies.” This palpable anger and frustration is one of the unifying threads on the album, recorded by the longtime lineup of McCaughan, guitarist Jim Wilbur, drummer Jon Wurster and bassist Laura Ballance (McCaughan’s Merge partner). The other unifying element is the fact that in Superchunk’s hands, even songs about Armageddon can be made to sound hopeful.

“I have a hard time writing a song and just leaving it bleak,” says McCaughan. “But the music itself has its own mood. When you’re listening to the music and it’s just right in line with the meaning of the lyrics, it can just be too much. Too on the nose or something. It’s more interesting when there’s a counterpoint. You can be kind of humming along and enjoying it on one level, but then you listen to the lyrics, and you’re like, ‘This is kind of rough.’”

“The lyrics aren’t necessarily the thing to focus on,” counters Wilbur. “We’re still just trying to be a band that plays rock music. It just so happens that what’s preoccupying the lyrics now is just what we’re all thinking about. It’s not the time to write love songs or songs about anything esoteric. That said, if you just listen to it, you can hear it like a Superchunk song.”

The duality of the record is typified by “Reagan Youth,” celebrating the punk band of the same name in a joyous mosh-pit singalong, while skewering the generation Reagan Youth was lampooning. “If you grew up with punk rock, you knew about that band,” says McCaughan. “At the same time, the reason they called themselves that is because there was this generation of young conservatives that grew up in that era. To me, that’s what you’re dealing with when you deal with someone like Paul Ryan. They turned out even worse than you would’ve thought.”

As you would expect of a record with a politi-punk ethos, it was hastily recorded in two sessions last year that McCaughan describes as “a quick reaction—an emotional reaction to what’s going on. Both sides of that. In other words, how dire things are and feel and, on the flip side, how you deal with that.” This immediacy is most fully realized with “Cloud Of Hate,” written in the studio when the band members had an hour left before tearing down the drums and realized they didn’t know any cover songs to fill the time. It’s a hardcore rager with McCaughan declaring, “You broke the world that you’re not long for.”

Asked if he has any hopes for the future, McCaughan is conflicted. “It’s a rollercoaster,” he says. “Some days I think they’re just undercutting everything to the point where all the protections that were supposed to be in place are going to be gone when they’re done. Part of me thinks that they’re just so outlandish that’s there’s no way that they can hold on to power for very long. In the meantime, though, look at what they’re doing to immigrant communities, poor people and anyone else they want to prey upon. It’s frightening even though you know it’s going to end at some point.”

—Matt Ryan

Kyle Craft: Some Girls

With Full Circle Nightmare, Kyle Craft delivers more songs about dangerous women

Kyle Craft’s follow-up to Dolls Of Highland, his raucous 2016 debut, could’ve been a political concept album. He’d written “Before The Wall,” a Dylanesque protest song, during the election year and thought about staying with its topical themes.

“There was this point, shortly after that, I was considering writing a concept album, almost this Ziggy Stardust thing about Donald Trump,” says Craft from his recording space in Portland. “I wrote three or four songs, and then I was like, ‘What the fuck am I doing? I’m not doing this.’”

“Ziggy Trump” or “Donny Stardust” might’ve been cool—the orange hair would be apt—but instead, Craft wrote a bang-up album about dangerous women and the reckless men who fall for them. It’s a song cycle full of vitriol and verve, with full-throated and full-throttle Stonesy arrangements. Produced by the Decemberists’ Chris Funk, whom Craft befriended shortly after he took up residence in Portland a few years ago, Full Circle Nightmare (Sub Pop) sounds like a joyful purge.

“It’s mostly about the last four or five years of my life,” says Craft. “For me, it’s kind of a closure album. It’s the end of a long, treacherous, really fun, really wild hallway, and I’m looking back over the hallway and closing the door and walking out. I didn’t want it to try to be pretty. I don’t think I could make pretty music if I tried. Lyrically, sonically, all of it is kind of unhinged.”

Songs blend into one another; the guitar hook on one turns up as a horn part on another; characters recur, the emotions are raw, and the songs rock.

Full Circle Nightmare is Craft’s second LP, but his third full-length release. Last summer on a whim, after finishing Full Circle, Craft and his piano player Kevin Clark recorded about 20 covers of female artists, from Jenny Lewis to Patti Smith to Patsy Cline. Craft shared them with the folks at Sub Pop, and they surprised him by deciding to release some of them as a digital album. (Miley Cyrus’ “Wrecking Ball” didn’t make the cut.) Girl Crazy came out in October, just a month or so after Craft finished them, and four months before Full Circle. The affection Craft shows for songs by Cher, Sharon Van Etten, TLC and Blondie is an antidote to the problematic femmes fatales who populate Full Circle Nightmare.

Craft is looking forward to taking these songs on the road. “On tour, we’re a rock ’n’ roll band through and through,” he says. “If the record is unhinged to anyone, the live show is even more raucous than the record.”

—Steve Klinge

UNDER THE INFLUENCE WITH KYLE CRAFT

The Coast Starlight Train
“I’ve been taking the train from Portland to Seattle almost every single week. It’s really something. All that river and backwoods you never get to see from the 5 and the little charming West Coast nowhere towns … I always bring pen and paper. It’s also great if you like really expensive shots of cheap liquor.”

Moonbase Studios
“The space where my piano player and I combined recording gear for rehearsals and recording. It’s not uncommon for us to be in there from, say, 9 a.m. to 5 a.m., sleep, then repeat. It’s got more beer cans and cigarette butts than mic cables, but it does the trick.”

Dick Stusso
“I’m really excited about this guy. He has a new record on Hardly Art, and the single has some groovy Bolan vibes. His first album, Nashville Dreams/Sings The Blues, is great, too.”

Rhye: Sowing Rhye Oats

Rhye’s Mike Milosh on what he puts on when he’s in the mood for love

Since Mike Milosh has a reputation for making music that often results in listeners making babies, we decided to ask the man himself what music he feels conveys the kind of sensual, seductive eroticism fans hear in Rhye’s output. It turns out, Milosh opts for an eight-hour ambient work titled after the other thing people do in bed.

“Max Richter’s Sleep is an incredible record,” he says. “It’s one of my favorite albums in that context. It doesn’t impose anything on you. You’re not force-fed this concept of eroticism or sensuality. But it plays as background, and it’s so beautiful that it allows for such an intimate feeling to arise when it’s on. I don’t want to be told what to do; I don’t want to be force-fed an erotic moment. I don’t want to put on ‘Sexual Healing’—that seems very on the note. Something like Sleep seems like it accompanies you as opposed to force-feeding the idea, like, ‘Now we are having sex!’ Where’s my free will here? I don’t want to be fraudulent ever, and putting on ‘Sexual Healing’ would seem like a fraud.”

—Steve Klinge

Rhye: Flesh And Blood

For his sophomore LP, Rhye’s Mike Milosh took the hard road to soft rock

About a year after releasing Woman, Rhye’s 2013 debut, Mike Milosh began receiving unsolicited photos and messages from couples who credited the sensual, seductive album for soundtracking the conception of their children.

“My response to that is, ‘Wow, people are wanting to share that much about themselves with me,’” he says. “I guess I just feel honored that people are willing to express that this song helped to conceive their child. That’s a very special thing.” He laughs. “There’s nothing bad about that.”

But Milosh feels like it’s not really his business how people connect with his songs or whether they think he’s purposely creating “baby-making music.” He likes the concept of listeners taking something they hear and making it their own. “That’s the way I listen to music,” he says. “I don’t always listen to music the way it was intended. Once you put art out into the world, it’s not really your own anymore. People are going to interpret it, change it, have experiences with it.”

Woman was a love letter to Milosh’s then-wife, a silky blend of soft rock and slinky R&B and smooth jazz. Milosh, a Canadian who had released four solo, electronic-based albums before partnering with Denmark’s Robin Hannibal to make Woman, sings in an aching alto, so comparisons to Sade were ubiquitous. Songs such as “The Fall” and “Open” were overtly erotic; the intimacy was explicit.

Originally, Rhye was going to be a studio project, with minimal live performances. But the album’s acclaim and Milosh’s eagerness to tour changed that. Hannibal, who fronts Quadron, opted out, and Milosh assembled a touring band that included horns, strings and multiple keyboardists and vocalists; they spent several years on the road, taking the intimate music to increasingly large crowds. Translating Woman’s studio subtleties to audiences in the thousands transformed the songs and, in turn, influenced Milosh’s goals for Blood, the long-delayed second Rhye album.

“After playing tons of concerts, I started getting bored with the sound,” says Milosh. “I didn’t want every night to be the same. I started leaving room for improv in the songs, make them bigger, make them smaller. That really influenced the way I approached making this record. These songs have those possibilities in them, to expand and grow and maybe go a bit nuts at times, then drop back down to a vocal outro.”

Blood is of a piece with Woman, but the arrangements are starker and sharper. It’s restrained and subtle but rich with detail. The tempos are still slow and sensual, and the songs have a lot of space in them, but they have a lot going on, too. Plucked strings drop in; woodwinds bubble to the surface; a disco bass line locks in; an African highlife guitar riff crops up; a Hammond B-3 lends a soul/funk groove. Above it all floats Milosh’s lovely, sighing voice.

“Things sound minimal at times, but there’s actually a lot of layers,” he says. “Even a song like ‘Please’ may sound very simple, but there’s, like, 80 tracks in the actual session. I’ve really become comfortable with my voice and using it in this tone that is to me very airy, gentle. I’ve been exploring that more and more. On Blood, I really wanted to explore vulnerability.”

The road to Blood was a difficult one, littered with breakups and legal hurdles. Hannibal left the project immediately; Milosh and his wife divorced; because of contract disputes, Milosh had to use money he’d made from touring to buy the rights to make a second album, then find a label to release it. (He’s back with Loma Vista, the same label that released Woman, although the imprint is now independent.) But there was also joy: Milosh’s new girlfriend was his muse for Blood (he took the nude picture of her that’s on the cover), and after opening the album with “Waste,” a ruminative breakup song, the songs trace the blossoming of new love.

“Music or art for me is a type of therapy or catharsis—it’s a type of healing for me,” says Milosh. “I’m not a very angry individual; that’s not my nature. I’m not a mad guy. The way it comes out in me in the art is a lot more peaceful or melancholic or joyous. The melodies err on the side of beauty rather than an expression of anger or angst. I’ve always been drawn to music that’s more beautiful.”

That beauty is alluring, and Milosh isn’t entirely surprised that strangers share intimate moments in response.

“I’m oversharing, even,” he says. “I’m sharing a lot about my personal life in the songs. My whole point is that I want to bring people together with the music. Knowing that people are having these intimate experiences, essentially bringing them physically together, is definitely in line with what I’m trying to do.”

—Steve Klinge

Ruby Boots: Lady In Red

As Ruby Boots, Australian expat Bex Chilcott dons the cloak of reinvention

Ruby Boots’ Bex Chilcott is gazing out at the white stuff blanketing her East Nashville neighborhood. “We don’t get snow in Australia,” she says. “To me, this is like next level. You can’t see the road, and I’m quietly freaking out because I’ve got a video shoot.”

Apparently, snow isn’t one of the things that drew Chilcott to Music City from her native Perth. But there really never was a Plan B. “I first came here in 2012, and I said to myself, ‘You’re fucked. You’re gonna have to do everything you can to live here,’” says Chilcott.

Though she’d had some success as Ruby Boots—the band and the nom de plume—she’d pretty much hit a wall in Australia. On the new Don’t Talk About It (Bloodshot), she hammers away at that wall with the help of producer Beau Bedford and his Dallas-based Texas Gentlemen, as skilled and instinctual a studio collective as she could’ve hoped for. “Between all of them, I had access to this amazing wealth of musical knowledge,” she says. “They just followed their raw instincts and honored the songs.”

From the new-wavy “Believe In Heaven” and the glam sheen of the title track to the heartland rock of “Easy Way Out” and the Britpop insinuations scattered throughout, Don’t Talk About It feels like an album that’s out to prove a point. “I was honestly just following my heart,” says Chilcott. “In Australia, I’ve been pegged as an alternative-country artist, but I’ve never really thought of myself as an anything artist. I don’t even know if I’ve figured it out yet.”

Though her 2016 debut, Solitude, received its share of positive press, Chilcott does sound a little antsy and confined within its Americana framework. That same year, she hit it off with the Gentlemen when they made a stop in Nashville on their way to the Newport Folk Festival to play with Kris Kristofferson. A prolific writer, Chilcott had some 40 tunes ready to go, of which they chose 10. “When you’re handing over your songs to a collective of people, it could go many ways,” she says. “But it went exactly the way I wanted it to. And more.”

—Hobart Rowland

UNDER THE INFLUENCE WITH BEX CHILCOTT

Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri
“It’s one of the best movies I’ve seen in a very long time. Frances McDormand plays this perfect role of what a shattered heart looks like, while also being the biggest badass who still manages to make you laugh.”

Beck’s Colors
“I’m obsessed when a favorite artist of mine takes a left turn and produces, in my humble opinion, a perfect pop record. Sia did it with We Are Born, and now this album has bitten me with lockjaw.”

Any Old Iron
“‘Rock ’n’ roll tailoring with a twist.’ The sequin suits they make are incredible.”

Calexico: Nature’s Way

Joey Burns explains how acclaimed environmental artist James Turrell came to be namechecked in a Calexico song

On “End Of The World With You,” the first single from The Thread That Keeps Us, Joey Burns references environmental artist James Turrell when he sings, “Turn up the microphone on the national parks/You gotta switch something off if you wanna get it right/A crater full of wisdom in James Turrell’s eyes.”

“I call him a kind of naturalist” says Burns. “He’s taking sky, space, light and framing it so it becomes a focal point. He takes the everyday beautiful sky and clouds and light and gives you a time and place to observe it and take it in. It’s incredible. I wanted to touch on that sense of minimalism and the importance of taking time to appreciate and reflect and distill those feelings into your own life. It could be a good remedy for bringing you to more enlightenment.

“He’s done a lot of installations. He purchased Roden Crater here in Arizona, where he’s building a huge installation as part of the natural landscape. We have some amazing artwork that is all done in nature in the most beautiful inspired ways, much in the same way years before John Muir worked to protect and preserve nature so we can enjoy it.”

—Steve Klinge

Calexico: Beyond Borders

The multinational Calexico expands musically while still exploring the ties that bind us all

Calexico has always been about crossing borders. If there’s ever been a band that doesn’t love a wall, it’s Calexico, whose name comes from a town on the U.S. side of the Mexican border (across from its inverse hybrid Mexicali). In its current incarnation, the Tucson-based outfit led by Joey Burns and John Convertino includes members from Germany, Spain, New York City, El Paso and Nashville: Calexico relishes cultural crossings. Although Burns and Convertino started off in 1995 mining Southwestern-flavored Americana and indie rock, they evolved to more deeply explore the musics and characters of the Mexican-American border, sometimes leaning more to gentle mariachi horns, sometimes to more traditional rootsy rock. They’re consistent but unpredictable.

“It’s hard to know how we do what we do,” says Burns. “I’m going by my gut; I’m looking for a feel. We’re not the kind of band to repeat ourselves. I can see how other listeners would be like, ‘Eh, I don’t get it.’ Maybe there’s too much subtlety or too much of a mix of styles of music. It’s not easily defined. I totally get it when I read a review or talk to listeners and they say, ‘I like your early stuff.’ But we have to do this. This is who we are right now.”

Who they are right now is evident on The Thread That Keeps Us (Anti-), their ninth studio album. It’s many things: It tells stories of characters struggling with “love in the age of extremes” and with a looming apocalypse; it blends subtle melodies with noisy electric guitars; it engages with topical political and environmental issues.

“I think now, because of where we’re at socially and politically, and because it feels like we’re stepping back, and because of economic crises, and because of war-torn areas with refugees who are being blamed for a lot, those themes resonate with us,” says Burns. “The sense of ‘home’ and what does it mean to be from Arizona today, or from California, or from the United States, or to be from North America. Those things started to weave their way into the music and the lyrics. I want to connect with people. That feeling is embedded in these songs, really wanting to connect. The best way I could do that is find some characters and get them talking and follow where their paths led.”

Although Burns writes most of the lyrics, he talks them out with Convertino—he credits Convertino with “steering the ship” of the songs, and not only from behind the drumkit—and their concerns about the state of the world and the environment ended up embedded throughout. They recorded the album in northern California, where they first met more than 30 years ago, and the studio was “in the shadow” of Mt. Tamalpais near the Muir Woods National Monument. The natural beauty around them became a focus. Or, more precisely, the threatened natural beauty. “What part of nature can you honestly say/Is beyond your explanations for short-term gain,” Burns sings on “Girl In The Forest,” a song that also alludes explicitly to naturalist John Muir.

These concerns aren’t new for Calexico, but they’re more prominent, urgent and timely. “Out here in the West, there’s so much open country and it seems limitless,” says Burns. “And yet, it’s really precious. Growing up in the West, I’ve always been concerned about pollution and our natural resources; those things have been in our arsenal of topics that we’ve written about. But there’s so much going on in our world I kinda wanted to embed the lyrics with some of those concerns.”

That sense of brewing turmoil is embedded in the music, too. The guitars—mostly from Burns and Jairo Zavala—are often dissonant or edgy, although they’re sometimes muted in the mix. Zavala adds a Robert Fripp-like solo to “End Of The World With You”; feedback courses through the ominous “Eyes Wide Awake”; a garage-rock crunch propels the sinister “Dead In The Water.”

“That noise has been missing, I think, in the last few albums,” says Burns, who’s looking forward to amping up the guitars when the band tours. “It’s reflective of what we’re feeling these days, and also lyrically.”

The album doesn’t stay in one place for long. It has rock songs, Spanish folk songs and cinematic instrumentals. The insistent, trance-like groove of “Another Space” recalls Talking Heads circa Remain In Light. (Burns says one of his favorite songs to cover when he was in high school was “Crosseyed And Painless.”) Some songs start in one place and end in another, like “Thrown To The Wild,” which gradually succumbs to a dense cacophony. Says Burns, “I love the way the second half of the song opens up to this instrumental sea of chaos. There’s trumpet a la Miles Davis, there’s noises and this chorus of oohs that’s together despite the storm and chaos. The harmony is still there, but it’s getting drowned out by the noise and chaos.”

That song almost ended the album, but Burns chose to conclude with a stronger sense of hope, with lovely acoustic ballad “Music Box.”

“I’m 51 years old right now, my kids are six years old; I want to leave a little something personal,” he says. “For me, it was probably the most punk-rock thing I’ve done in a long time, which is to write a direct love song to my kids and my wife. I usually obscure my lyrics into characters and narratives and things. It felt really good putting it straight on the line.”

—Steve Klinge