Daisy Jones & The Six – Aurora: Review

There’s no denying the significant uptick for the novel Daisy Jones & The Six by Taylor Jenkins Reid, especially the television miniseries based on it. It is a different narrative journey I’m not used to taking; though I am used to reading through interviews all my life, it felt like two distinct worlds colliding. However, one thing that did stand out while reading the novel was the details within the creation of this album that felt grandiose as if we were getting something akin to Rumours by Fleetwood Mac or Don’t Shoot Me I’m The Piano Player by Elton John yet as I took the time to sit back and relish in the attempt to realize that album, titled, Aurora. As the album kept playing and playing, the melodies struck beautifully – guitar strings strum with fluid range – the writing and performances are substantially rich – but with what rounds out the edges, I couldn’t hear what the novel wanted to convey about its musical layers. It treads familiar waters within the safer waters of Soft-Rock, never seeming to do something meticulously unique. Listening to it, with or without background knowledge of the characters, you get a solid rock album with quality replay value.

With direct nuance and nostalgia to the subtle underlinings of its 70s era, Aurora captures the essence of what influenced it, specifically, the music of Fleetwood Mac and their wayward yet delicate string orchestrations that emboldened their harmonies and melodies, like the acoustics of “Two Against Three” or “Look At Us Now (Honeycomb).” There are fantastic highs like them and calming middle-of-the-pack work that comes from this over-sizzling of decisions, like when it rides a rhythm for too long on “Kill You To Try,” making the outro feel slightly forgotten. It’s unlike the frenetic and lavish rock stylings of tracks like “More To Miss” or “Please,” where it doesn’t slightly overstay its welcome, delivering more profound musicality, especially the former “More To Miss,” which blends unique string layers from guitars and bass. Produced by Blake Mills, Aurora achieves its goal of delivering a capsule to the past, orchestrating these whimsically fantastic but sometimes standard, polished arrangements that get predominately outshone by the vocal performances. It leaves you with an essence of the past, yet it doesn’t feel significantly unique, even if it isn’t a bad album, and more just there with a larger sliver of greatness.

It feels like a layaway from the 70s as it looks to hit the nail squarely within the gravitational pull of nostalgia. But the music is sensibly modern but keeps its roots tethered to the operatic atmosphere of a studio construction, allowing the performance to be driven by visualizing space within one’s inflections as we hear with the powerful “Regret Me,” or the smooth cadences of “Let Me Down Easy.” Aurora is an album that rides the coats of its vocals because the profoundness articulated in the novel Daisy Jones & The Six isn’t fully heard consistently except for in the performances. Sung by lead actor and actress Sam Claflin and Riley Keough, they have natural essence to their voice, feeling more grounded, and for a few, it might be expected, especially knowing Claflin’s background with theater and Keough’s own lineage/life, respectively. Keough grew up around music, whether through the legacy of her grandfather Elvis Pressley or the musical ventures of her mother, Lisa Marie Pressley, so it felt sort of made for her; Claflin studied theater and drama, and if you didn’t know that… well, Finnick Odair from The Hunger Games can sing.

Easily put, Aurora is loose and focused on what it wants to be that it’s volleying an inconsistent everlong game between two styles. What I mean by that is whenever the album teeters between Rock and Soft-Rock/Pop, there aren’t many moments where the whole song feels pure as other times, you’re gravitating to ranging emotional delivery or the orchestration, where it’s the minimal stuff that lights up the stage, whether it’s a specific guitar lick or the synchronization of the two rhythms, or the soaring energy within the choruses. In the Riley Keough-driven performance of “Two Against Three,” the tempered vocals erupt once it arrives at the hook; the hook clutches you in the emotional gut and starts pulling harder and harder, similar to that of “Please,” except “Please” has more power within the chorus. It’s bolstered by the luscious cymbals coating the fluid strings and percussion layers, continuing the more boisterous notes of the track that precedes and succeeds it, including its distinct flair compared to others.

As the author of Daisy Jones would tell Rolling Stone magazine, “We finally have AURORA. A stunning, nostalgic, timeless album that captures the drama, pathos, and yearning of the band’s zenith and nadir all in one. A snapshot of time, intoxicating and dangerous. That delicious moment that you know can’t last… Daisy Jones & The Six are real. And they are better than my wildest dreams.” I’d downplay the word stunning, and I concur, especially not having seen the miniseries and reading the book. By understanding the heavy Fleetwood Mac influence that guided Taylor Jenkins Reid in writing the novel, it wasn’t hard to see the parallels, and sometimes, it’s that little bit that makes the production feel more replicative instead of inspired, aside from the vocals, the strings, and polished mixing. I thoroughly enjoyed this, even with its pivots into a less-than-stellar territory; give it a few listens, read the book, and watch the show if you’re a fan of the first two; I know I will be.

Rating: 7 out of 10.

Marcus Mumford – (Self-Titled): Review

Marcus Mumford’s solo debut takes the simplicities of the folk-rock sounds from early Mumford & Sons and rarely evolves past the known–rustic power-driven strings and genial percussion. Titled (Self-Titled), it’s a tongue-in-cheek approach to the content we’re receiving. We’re getting bleak and hopeful reflections on Marcus Mumford’s life–not the folk artist who’s taken unique directions with his band’s albums like their Shakespearean-influenced debut, Sigh No More. As hard as he tries to separate himself from his band, he barely nudges toward an identity unless you count the lack of backing vocals and enigmatic instruments playing something distinct and vibrant. And this is not a knock on Marcus Mumford because he isn’t reflecting that lively energy like playing with friends and instead trying to give us a meditation of sounds and words that wants us to feel and put our hearts on our sleeve. It’s primarily rich in Mumford’s songwriting and vocal performances, but the production isn’t always captivating, leaving us lost in translation before the second half.

Marcus Mumford starts (Self-Titled) on a high note by reeling us with a powerful opening that details sexual abuse done to him as a minor. His detailed writing opens the curtains for the stage, and his words are world-building descriptively, horrifying experience sung in an angering, somber tone. “I can still taste you, and I hate it/That wasn’t a choice in the mind of a child and you knew it/You took the first slice of me and you ate it raw/Ripped it in with your teeth and your lips like a cannibal/You fucking animal.” Mumford never lets up, showing these gripping layers beneath the rustic strings and commandingly emotional percussion that reflects the lingering disdain fueling him beneath the surface. Unfortunately, that’s immediately lost when Mumford, and producer Blake Mills, continue to bring teetering tempos and tones. But when Mumford takes it slow and allows himself to feel vulnerable over loose acoustics, we hear that he is aiming at being slightly different. That doesn’t absolve it from the modest dullness offered.

“Grace,” “Prior Warning,” and “Only Child” reflect the drab dullness that makes you want to skip after a first listen. The acoustics–consistent in tonal inflections–isn’t that rich and leave Marcus Mumford’s performances feeling somewhat empty. His vocals, though not limited, can’t keep the songs afloat, so you’re left mum about the experience. “Dangerous Game” with Clairo is where it starts to gain some traction with these more free-spirited folk-rock productions that moderately shift past certain percussion conventions and allow Mumford to deliver something grand. However, it isn’t matched with significance by some of the featured artists, specifically Phoebe Bridgers, whose feature almost feels like glorified backing vocals. Similarly, Clairo performs somberly throughout, feeling distant in contrast to Mumford’s more colorful performance in the first half. They aren’t like “Go In Light” and “How,” where Mumford finds tremendous synergy with Monica Martin and Brandi Carlisle. They match his energy and add dimensions to the vocal performances as they embody the themes Mumford conveys.

On (Self-Titled), Marcus Mumford is confronting moments of the past–traumatic, moments of regret, and other times, looking at painting a more significant emotional picture using interesting analogies to speak to the invigorated complexities of Marcus Mumford’s person. Here, I’m talking “Better Angels,” which sees Mumford opening his mind to memories and the vigorously potent “How,” where Mumford beautifully connects with Brandi Carlisle–as examples. It’s a dynamic force as a closer that makes you forget the humdrum inconsistencies that preceded it. Unfortunately, having a powerful opening and closing can only do so much when there is much meat in the middle. I had some expectations that I’d find myself attracted to the musical simplicity, and even so, I couldn’t see myself loving it much, despite Mumford hitting it with his performances on a more consistent level. Maybe you’ll get more from it than me, but it was very middle of the road.

Rating: 5 out of 10.