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Aoife O’Donovan - Age of Apathy Music Album Reviews

Aoife O’Donovan - Age of Apathy Music Album Reviews
The Irish American singer-songwriter taps into the propulsion of prime Joni Mitchell: a restless mind bouncing against the blur of one’s surroundings.

To title an album In the Magic Hour—as Aoife O’Donovan did in 2016—is to invite certain chromatic expectations. She delivered, in part, by exploring memories of childhood summers on the southern coast of Ireland, daubing the text with crepuscular blues and low moons. Ancestors sang like evening stars, skin tasted like fine light. O’Donovan’s probing compositions—the culmination of a career straddling the worlds of progressive bluegrass and folk—unfolded like porch-lit conversations, which meant that even at its uneasiest, the record was unhurried. And there was unease. Magic Hour ended with a triptych of songs about escape: planning, packing, panicking. But all that activity hung in the air, a sort of motion memory.

Six years later, O’Donovan is still on the move. The images are as impressionistic as ever, but now the impressions arrive at velocity: On the Taconic State Parkway, on bus routes to Brooklyn and Boston; in a horse-drawn cart on the plains and a car on the cusp of Earth’s orbit. On Age of Apathy, she taps into the propulsion of prime Joni Mitchell: a restless mind bouncing against the blur of one’s surroundings. She has that same actor’s sense—when to go big, when to bring it backwards. A celebration of the muse returning, “Phoenix” puts a muted groove to an in-the-pocket strum right out of “This Flight Tonight.” “Fever’s got me shaking/Rises up like a road to meet me,” O’Donovan sings. She sounds honored. The title track, like “Flight,” finds the narrator on an impulsive trip, blasting tunes to chase her thoughts. O’Donovan breaks into one of those tunes at the end: Mitchell’s “My Old Man.”

No song here, though, is as plainly lovestruck as that snippet. “Galahad” feints at devotion, but O’Donovan ultimately treats the legend as a foil, someone whose pursuit of Avalon only adds space between him and everyone else. “Somebody told me you were pure of blood and oxygen/That your good knife can cut through anything,” O’Donovan smirks. “But I’m alive.” She leaves him staring at seagulls, having flirted him to a draw. The chamber-rock crawler “Lucky Star” alternates details of a seasonal affair with travel complaints. O’Donovan and guest Madison Cunningham—both alumni of the radio variety show Live From Here—prod the fog with mewling guitars. “I’ll die if you tell the world about my third eye,” O’Donovan murmurs. It reads as a joke but sounds like a threat. So does the chorus: “If I had a little money/I would go somewhere.”

For all the dust O’Donovan kicks up, the point is neither the destination nor the journey. It’s the leaving. On the title track, a lonely trek upstate bears a memory of sheltering in a Christian Science center on 9/11, a sort of existential waystation she doesn’t wish on anyone else. “Oh, to be born in the age of apathy,” she sighs over cymbal roll and hovering strings, ”When nothing’s got a hold on you.” “Elevators” follows, with brittle guitar that flaps like a wren finding a place to land. “In America,” the refrain keeps intoning: usually a marker of pretension, but here it’s mostly the springboard for some clever internal rhyme. Having seen too many big-box stores and gas station bathrooms, O’Donovan hops into a covered wagon and heads for the past. She arrives at a prairie lake. “What’s good here?” she yells, “and what are we going to make?”

Age of Apathy ends with the blithely sunny “Passengers,” an expansion on In the Magic Hour’s closer “Jupiter.” Each track puts O’Donovan in a car heading for outer space. In “Jupiter” she’s driving, asking her companion to speak to her “of star stuff.” In “Passengers,” she’s ceded the wheel but not the navigation. “Stay in your lane, you’ll be fine,” she notes over a warm rumble. “Mercury is stuck in Scorpio and the Little Dipper’s dripping dry.” The effect is that of an astrological driving instructor, sure, but an expert one. I’m not sure anyone else keeps as many vehicles running, or maps as many escape routes.

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About Wanni Arachchige Udara Madusanka Perera

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Aoife O’Donovan - Age of Apathy Music Album Reviews Aoife O’Donovan - Age of Apathy Music Album Reviews Reviewed by Wanni Arachchige Udara Madusanka Perera on Monday, January 31, 2022 Rating: 5

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