LP5 is released this Friday, but we’ve had a sneak peek and – spoiler alert – you’re going to love it! We certainly did!
We have a feeling a lot will be written about John Moreland’s music evolving when people hear LP5 for the first time. And while it is true that he makes some different sonic decisions and experiments with some different textures on this album, the truth is that he is a musician who has been evolving since he first picked up a guitar. Starting against a backdrop of punk and hardcore in his early teens, he subsequently released albums with the Black and Gold band and the Dustbowl Souls (the latter providing the backing for him on his first release under his own name Earthbound Blues). These albums put his always emotionally charged lyrics against more of a rock and roll backdrop. 2013’s In the Throes through to 2017’s Big Bad Luv (the albums he’s probably known best for) still found Moreland backed by a band but overall they took a slightly sparser approach in respect of arrangements and accompaniments, putting Moreland’s fingerpicked acoustic guitar lines and voice very much front and center.
As one of those beautifully fingerpicked guitar lines opens up the first song of LP5, “Harder Dreams,” this is unmistakably a Moreland album. But as the album progresses you notice some differences from Moreland’s efforts to date as some sampled sounds and drum machines make appearances on many of the songs.
Back in April 2019, when Moreland played at SPACE in Evanston, IL he joked that he and John Calvin Abney had been trying to get some practice in before going back on the road (having not played live in a while) but had just ended up making hip-hop beats together (which he then played from his phone for the audience). Whilst he was kidding around, it’s clear that he has been experimenting in the studio while writing the new album and that Abney, his long-time collaborator, has been a big part of this. Indeed, in a recent interview with Brandy McDonnell at The Oklahoman, Moreland said as much: “I think this album was really informed by me and Calvin just kind of hanging out and messing with gear and messing with sounds in my home studio and doing demos. We have a lot of gear that we share and stuff, so he gets a drum machine and uses it on his album and then I’m like, ‘Whoa, that sounds awesome; let me borrow that.’ Then we use it on my album. That kind of thing happens a lot with us.”
It should also be mentioned that this is Moreland’s first album working with a producer. He mentions on his website that Matt Pence, the producer he chose was key to helping him execute some of the ideas he had in his head. LP5 is the result, and it must be said, that the result is outstanding. You can hear the time and care that has been taken in arranging each track. Whether it’s electronic instruments, fuzz guitars, harmonicas, or keys, it’s clear that each decision has been taken with a view to enhancing the song. As a result, nothing feels out of place. This is Moreland’s voice as he wants it to be heard, and it sounds good.
Everything you already expect from Moreland is here as well, lyrically thoughtful, impactful songs delivered with that signature gravelly tone of his. “Terrestrial” is a stand-out track and sees Moreland still working through his feelings about the church and religion: “Sing Hallelujah, I was lost but now I’m found. Come on in and will treat you like kin, long as you don’t make a scene or a sound.”
“In Times between,” which Moreland wrote for his friend, the late Chris Porter, also packs a strong emotional punch and “A Thought Is Just A Passing Train” is a great bluesy meditation, with the chorus/tremolo-type effect applied to Moreland’s voice and some fantastic fuzz guitar perfectly adding to the ambiance of the track.
Talking about the album on his website, Moreland mentions that he’d learned to be a little more mindful and kinder to himself during the period the album was written and that he feels it shows in the songs. “When My Fever Breaks,” which he wrote for his wife over a period of three years, hints at the good place Moreland finds himself emotionally and the part that finding her has had to play in that: “The strongest will, the softest touch, I never knew I’d have so much.”
We would have to agree that Moreland certainly seems to be in a great place creatively, and without going into detail on every track, this album is a real triumph. He has allowed himself to be free of concerns over what people may think/expect and simply create what he wanted to create, in the way he wanted to do it. As a result, this is Moreland’s most artistically realized album to date.
It’s the best kind of record – one you can enjoy, whilst it’s simultaneously making you excited about where the artist is headed next!
LP5 is released on February 7. Be sure to order your copy here.