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Doug Paisley - Starter Home Music Album Review

Gracefully navigating the intersection of folk-rock and country, the gentle-voiced songwriter turns detailed images of domestic tranquility and promise into reflections on disappointment.
For a decade, Canadian singer/songwriter Doug Paisley has turned quiet, specific moments into inquiries on life’s larger struggles. On his 2010 breakthrough, Constant Companion, Paisley used the inevitability of endings to explore understanding oneself, the only possible “constant companion.” For 2014’s Strong Feelings, he mulled death and its uneasy relationship with life, or how their juxtaposition ripples into every wave of existence. And now, on his fourth album, Starter Home, Paisley details the chasm that separates what poet Seamus Heaney described as “getting started” and “getting started again.” These songs examine how the person you are never truly aligns with the person you want to be, especially when you stumble upon a sticking point that’s hard to move past.

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Restorations - LP5000 Music Album Reviews

In the face of label woes, a gentrifying hometown, and Donald Trump, Philadelphia’s other Springsteen acolytes thrive inside the tension between hug-and-chug uplift and political fatigue.

When it’s time to retell the stories of the late 2010s and our multiplying sociopolitical problems, Philadelphia’s Restorations will not be our generation’s Creedence Clearwater Revival, the music filmmakers use now as countercultural shorthand. But LP5000, the sardonically titled follow-up to 2014’s LP3, does warrant a role in those inevitable scenes where people are doing what you are right now—looking at a music website on your phone and realizing anew there is no way to escape your waking news nightmare, only different ways to engage. “No, I don’t wanna hear that name again,” Jon Loudon sighs during “Melt,” as the dreamiest but bleariest Restorations song yet recreates the feeling of breaking a promise to yourself not to check Twitter the moment you wake up.

That name does go unsaid during LP5000, not that it makes much difference. “Glance at your phone and you mumble, ‘I hope he dies’/Yeah, I hope he dies, too,’” he sings at one point, a couple reaffirming their devotion to one another in a way that hopefully will feel dated at some point. This paralyzing weariness is the only major change since LP3, save a little more electronic chit-chat and a little less triple-guitar skywriting. Restorations still stand alongside Constantines and the Menzingers on a thorny branch of the Tree of Springsteen. It doesn’t take much to pierce this armor of red flannel and Born to Run vinyl, to release repressed feelings of masculine shame and creeping obsolescence that explain why these guys sound like they have to drink themselves to sleep every night.

The peaks of LP3 were pure wish fulfillment for workingman’s dread: “Imagine that focus in real life/Imagine going outside,” Loudon roared over Telecaster feedback on “Separate Songs,” a call to throw your laptop from a moving car. “Misprint” could make anyone cooped inside a compact stuck on the interstate feel like they were cruising down some bucolic back road instead. Those moments don’t ring false in 2018, but they do seem like emotional luxuries we can no longer afford. “Threw your back out just trying to stand up straight,” Loudon sings now during opener “St.” Regardless of how hard they thrash and throttle, Restorations land on the resilience to make it through this shit, one day at a time.

As with Jeff Rosenstock’s POST- and the World is a Beautiful Place & I Am No Longer Afraid to Die’s Always Foreign, LP5000 resonates through the contrast between hug-and-chug uplift and an encroaching sense of its futility in the face of constant outrage. Those recent albums are also uniformly depressing in the way they follow their bombastic, relatively celebratory predecessors, memories that hover overhead like the cloud of a Facebook “On This Day” post made before you had to deal with all of this.

To release LP3, Restorations jumped to rejuvenated punk stronghold SideOneDummy and were soon pegged as elder ambassadors of the United States’ new indie rock capital. But the label ditched its active bands to restructure under mysterious circumstances. LP5000’s first single, “The Red Door,” anxiously observes as Philly gentrifies into the “real” new Brooklyn. And though it’s produced by a guy who worked with the National, the War on Drugs, and Mr Twin Sister, its seven songs last only 24 minutes. By its mere existence, LP5000 suffers through the emotional and fiscal downsizing of the recent past.

The greatest trick of LP5000, then, is Restorations’ ability to sound cautiously anthemic. “Got a partner for starters and a kid on the way/Can’t be doing all this dumb shit no more,” Loudon snarls on “Nonbeliever.” He’d risk sounding smug if he were actually celebrating. And if you’re the sort who agrees gentrification is an unequivocal evil that you have limited power to control, you’ll identify with “The Red Door,” named for a telltale sign of displacement. When the song sounds ready to lift off or explode, Restorations only grit their teeth and vent. Real protest music might be more viscerally satisfying and important, but LP5000 plays its essential, relatable part.

The Great Awokening has created true folk heroes and left others with Twitter brain worms. Most of us have simply subjected ourselves to a pervasive baseline of bad news, worn like “a sodden and rotting wool sweater,” a foul, itchy reminder of our fucked-up present. Is the act of trying to keep your shit together the only way to stay sane or a true guarantee of insanity? LP5000 speaks with eloquence and empathy about that predicament. No, it doesn’t remove the sweater, but it reminds us that someone else is wearing one, too.


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