Rayland Baxter, a man with a first name I can scarcely believe in, seems to be pulling a Bon Iver on this album, which grew out of a period of seclusion spent in an old rubber band factory. Fifty songs written, of which ten made it onto this here finished album, produced by Butch Walker. Soulful, thoughtful modern rock. On ATO Records.
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Alright, well, this is the second record this year to be named ‘Wide Awake’, so we’re officially full. There’s no more space at the inn; please use a random name generator and come up with something new. Whereas Parquet Courts’ homonymous record was a striking indictment of complicity in our current political landscape (thanks dudes!), Rayland Baxter is just doin’ his thing, making decidedly old-soul pop music with shades of country rock and Americana. Admittedly, Baxter is also doing what many of his fellow countrymen are (and probably should) be doing: complaining about America in song.
It’s kinda hard to tell, though, because Baxter’s songs are so rawky, so showered in pazzaz, that they lose any internal meaning. “Casanova” has an offensively good hook in its chorus and between it Baxter uses old-school chord dashes and piano twinkles, reminding me of all the morning lie-ins I lost to my dad blasting out that day’s episode of Sound of the Sixties. At moments, I believe the watchword for Baxter’s music is ‘honky-tonk’; at others ‘beat combo’ might be an appropriate descriptor. Either way, Baxter presents his clean, perfectly calibrated pop music with just a hint of brashness, making sure tunes like “Angeline” have a firm guitar part or warming bassline behind them so you really hear them bleeding their heart out.
Baxter hauled up and wrote these songs in solitary, but they’re barn-burners, nothing without the boisterous band energy propping them up. “Amelia Baker” is psychedelic showmanship, its climax built on wild solos and the kind of kinetic energy that sounds disciplined and shambolic at the same time. “Hey Laracco” is a lovely, playful ditty with twanging melodies and a whole barroom of backing vocalists, its quick-witted and surrealist wordplay recalling Father John Misty without the bellicose nonsense. If you’re not getting it, this record is charming, a carefree ode to the sillier lineage of rock music that absolutely soars into a year of things getting worse and worse.
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- Wide Awake by Rayland Baxter
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