Back in my guitar magazine-reading, everything louder than everything else days, soft rock was something I equated with boiled broccoli and greeting card poetry--so bland and boring as to be distasteful. When you're younger, you want indignation, you want volume, you want to be bowled over, bloodied, and blown away.
At some point, though, I realized that aggression isn't the only path to intensity, and that acts such Fleetwood Mac, Jackson Browne, Jimmy Webb, and others were powerful in their own right. Lately, a few albums by younger musicians have come across my desk that reminded me of soft rock's strengths. And to be perfectly frank, today, when the residue of too many drinks from the night before is still muddying my neural networks, the music mentioned below is about all I can handle. Let me know what you think.Phosphorescent, Here's To Taking It Easy: On his fifth album, Phosphorescent's Matthew Houck takes cues from the righteously laidback corners of the Wilco and Byrds catalogs, assembling meticulously produced songs out of sighing slide guitars, warm keyboards, softly rolling rhythms, and gently yearning melodies sung in his own agreeably reedy voice. Winners such as "The Mermaid Parade" work their charm sneakily, though. At a distance, they're amiably unremarkable. Then, two minutes into a song, you find yourself smiling and humming along. Perfect for a top-down road trip. First Aid Kit, The Big Black And The Blue: Cherubic teenage Swedes Klara and Johanna Söderberg call themselves First Aid Kit, and there are few contemporary sounds as soul-soothing as their crystalline harmonies. Over a simple backing of acoustic guitars, harmonium, and autoharp, the sisters sing about looking back and moving on. There's a bit of early Joni Mitchell in the band's clear-eyed romantic recollections--and a whole lot of American folk in the lilting tunes--but the girls' gorgeous guilelessness lifts their music above any charges of imitation. Listening to them will make your heart swell. My Morning Jacket, Carl Broemel has crafted an unassuming little gem of a solo debut. Birds isn't out until August 31, but head over to Broemel's MySpace page, where you can hear the wryly lovely "Carried Away" and dreamy "Heaven Knows," both of which capture the album's whimsical charm.
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