Supernova is the fifth studio album from Ray LaMontangne and it's in sharp contrast to his previous albums, it's a welcome and bold statement certainly assisted by producer Dan Auerbach from The Black Keys. LaMontagne is one of the most interesting songwriters of the last decade, his work has a personal ache deeply embedded in the songs, they are wistful and melancholy but never saccharine. His voice is delicate and wispy and has an ethereal floating presence. What stands out on Supernova is the expansive sound, stretched out psychedelic explorations alongside multi layered vocals, the songs have a more pronounced groove.
Lavender is 60's country tinged psychedelia reminiscent of the The Byrd's during their Notorious Byrd Brothers period but also of bands like Moby Grape and the Jefferson Airplane. Dan Auerbach is a sonic explorer, he favours rich textures and allows LaMontagne's voice to drift off amongst the clouds. Airwaves is another country tinged number, a road song about a couple heading out of East L.A bounds for the open plains of Santa Fe.
Rolling out of East L.A
Making our way to Santa Fe
Man, sure do look pretty, she said
Feels so good to get myself out of the city
She's The One takes another trip to the West Coast of the late 60's built around some distinctive Auerbach fretwork and a solid bass line, a typical dark musical sentiment that seemed to permeate through a lot of the music of that period. Pick Up A Gun is darker a synth drum pattern opens on to a desolate soundscape, LaMontagne revisits his more melancholy tones,
Pick up a gun
Shoot the TV
I want you, you don't want me
That's ok I don't give a damn
Stood on a hill
Only to scream
I knew you, you never knew me.
Julia keeps things interesting it sounds a little like the Small Faces circa 1968, it has that same rollicking loose drum style that the Small Faces used to such great effect on their later work. The title track is perhaps the most engaging track on the album, it's more of a nod to his past but it's here that once again the music chops of Dan Auerbach lift this song above something that's just placid and unrevealing. There are so many elements crammed into this song, it's a got a great soul feel with some some fuzzed out guitar and those power chord hooks that Auerbach has become so good at displaying on the records he produces. It's also a song of defiance of knowing that there is something better ahead,
Zoe you know me and I'm on the right track
Gonna get out of here and never come back
Zoe you know me when I'm on the attack
Ain't no use in fighting back.
Drive In Movies picks up on the theme of small town frustration and also that nostalgic reflection of getting lost in the promise of what was on the other side of the screen. It's a fitting closure to an album that offers a surprise at every turn.
Supernova is a risk that pays off, it shows an artist not prepared to play it safe, LaMontagne could easily play it by numbers but instead he puts himself in the hands of a producer who has the uncanny knack of knowing exactly the right setting for the artist he is working with.