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Big Red Machine - How Long Do You Think It’s Gonna Last? Music Album Reviews

Big Red Machine - How Long Do You Think It’s Gonna Last? Music Album Reviews
Justin Vernon and Aaron Dessner’s expansive side project embraces new guests and familiar sounds, but sometimes feels lost in its own pleasant fog.

Outside of their main bands, Justin Vernon of Bon Iver and Aaron Dessner of the National share a vast extracurricular network: Through collaborations, festivals, and charity compilations, they’ve built a musical universe populated with the indie singer-songwriters and mainstream stars who’ve made their way through Vernon’s April Base and Dessner’s Long Pond studios. Big Red Machine is a project borne of those collaborations, a chance to roam in familiar terrain; its 2018 debut was a natural synthesis of the pair’s electroacoustic comfort zones. Their new record, How Long Do You Think It’s Gonna Last, builds on the presence of alternating voices from the National’s 2019 record I Am Easy to Find, with frequent Dessner cohorts like Taylor Swift and Sharon Van Etten taking the lead. The heads of the project don’t stretch themselves much, but the best moments provide a solid foundation for their guests and, eventually, Dessner himself.

For the most part, everyone here is doing what they do best. Dessner’s cozy and languid upright piano chords lead nearly every song, a signature sound that’s lovely in a vacuum but repetitive across 15 tracks. Vernon’s characteristically cryptic musings work to particularly inscrutable ends: “So I beg on knees/Can we share IDs?” James Krivchenia of Big Thief contributes live drums on several tracks, competing for attention with drum machines and Dessner and Vernon’s own programmed beats. Most of the guests contribute either lead or backing vocals: Over a decade after Vernon played Orpheus on folk-singer-turned-Tony-winner Anaïs Mitchell’s concept album Hadestown, Mitchell returns the favor on “Latter Days.” She pens some of the best lyrics on the record, evocative instead of impenetrable: “Stacked yourself against the odds/Talkin’ back to an act of God.” Pop songwriter Ilsey has fewer obvious connections to the National/Bon Iver organization, but she naturally fits into the tumbling “Mimi.”

When Dessner, Vernon, and co. drop the murkiness and craft proper songs, the album soars. The lightly swung piano and sentimental chorus of “Phoenix” are endearingly reminiscent of 1960s and ’70s AOR, a sound the pre-chorus winks at with the line, “How do you bear the full weight?” On “Renegade,” Swift swaps the wistful storytelling of her folklore era for some startlingly direct lines: “You fire off missiles cause you hate yourself/But do you know you’re demolishing me?” Dessner’s frenetic acoustic guitar and Vernon’s counterpoint intensify Swift’s lyrics until they threaten to drown her out. On the other end of the dynamic spectrum, the sparse “Hutch” mourns the loss of Frightened Rabbit frontman Scott Hutchison with a choir of Van Etten, My Brightest Diamond’s Shara Nova, and Lisa Hannigan: “You were unafraid/Of how much the world could take from you/So how did you lose your way?” Nothing more is needed; it’s just a brutally honest snapshot of losing a friend to suicide.

The best National songs build controlled, quiet tension—riffs and backing vocals bubbling under the surface as if the calm could break at any moment. How Long is content to bubble away indefinitely, without the threatening aura of a song like “I’ll Still Destroy You.” The album is strongest at its most simple, as evidenced in Dessner’s excellent stripped-back solo songs, where the topics are refreshingly specific: “The Ghost of Cincinnati” is a folksy evocation of emotional burnout, “Magnolia” a sympathetic ode to a woman isolating herself after an abusive relationship. “Brycie” stands out for its intimacy: Named for Aaron Dessner’s twin brother and lifelong collaborator Bryce, it’s an honest, endearing appreciation spiked with guilt: “You watched my back when we were young/You stick around when we’re old,” Aaron sings, acknowledging the selflessness it takes to support a sibling struggling with depression.

The moments of emotional truth leave a stronger impression than the duo’s meandering if pretty first record, but even with the addition of guests, nothing much about the Dessner/Vernon empire is surprising anymore: It’s not that these songs feel homogenized, it’s that they’re all different in the same way. “Easy to Sabotage” is genuinely weird in its formlessness, but it takes Naeem Juwan’s sing-rapping to truly differentiate the track. In contrast to the National’s infamous competing tastes and personalities, Big Red Machine’s instrumentals feel like the work of several people toiling in one soundbed. There are glimpses of new sounds, like the heavily manipulated acoustic guitar on “Hoping Then,” or the faintly hip-hop influenced beats on “8:22am,” though it takes multiple listens to pick these out. How Long is frequently gorgeous, but even on a deliberately messy side project, Dessner and Vernon still feel like they’re holding back.
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About Wanni Arachchige Udara Madusanka Perera

Hey, I'm Perera! I will try to give you technology reviews(mobile,gadgets,smart watch & other technology things), Automobiles, News and entertainment for built up your knowledge.
Big Red Machine - How Long Do You Think It’s Gonna Last? Music Album Reviews Big Red Machine - How Long Do You Think It’s Gonna Last? Music Album Reviews Reviewed by Wanni Arachchige Udara Madusanka Perera on Wednesday, September 08, 2021 Rating: 5

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