A constantly interesting and surprising album of dark folk experimentalism that, ultimately, doesn’t quite satisfy.
Don’t be thrown from the barrage of sounds that are multi-layered over opening track ‘Across the Flats’; Mike Etten has followed other musicians down the lockdown-induced rabbit hole of ‘interesting experimentalism’. There is a good song there, buried a little by the slightly cacophonic arrangement. But the rest of the album treads a more traditional path between dark-folk introspection, psychedelia and elements of Americana.
That’s not to say that the rest of the album steers clear of experimentation. It doesn’t. And tracks often take a slightly off-kilter direction like the bursts of electric guitar that drench the central bridge of the gently acoustic ‘Drive’ turning a rural tale backed by some beautiful pedal-steel into something fundamentally urban that Etten describes as “accepting that chaos can always be around the next corner.”
‘Saints’ takes a similar direction. At its core it’s a simple waltz matched with lyrics that stem from personal remembrance and reminiscences, but built up with Farncesco Caruso’s harmonies, Adam Markiewicz’s violin and synths weaving a counter line. Even a song that starts as a simple Lou Reed-style ballad, ‘December Sun’ is taken in some interesting directions by unexpected chord progressions and key changes.
There are a few more traditional songs that might still deal in unexpected key changes but actually remain truer to a mainstream vibe like the Americana of ‘New Thing’ and ‘East Side Walk’ or the downbeat folk of ‘Dune House’ which gently builds to a euphoric middle eight that unravels the darkness into something more positive.
There’s no doubt ‘Love Wash’ is an interesting listen. It ensures the listener is constantly surprised and expectations are undercut and tripped up. At their heart the songs are strong and Etten is clearly a great writer. There is, however, a gulf between interesting and enjoyable and ’Love Wash’ doesn’t always bridge that gap successfully.