8 notes on Aiofe O’Donovan / Age Of Apathy

This was the album that made me think, “Well, I guess I need to start a 2022 Favorites list.”
Stream / Buy / Skip: I went Buy. Eight notes on why …

“B61.” A song with a first date across town as its seed, it includes the line, “love is a daily good thing.” A reviewer had misheard a different lyric of hers in this way, and she liked it (per a radio interview I can’t find now, d’oh).

This is a good example of O’Donovan’s songwriting impulse to blend conventionally pretty melodic bits that reel in the listener while maintaining plenty of originality through more sophisticated choices around the arrangement edges and song structures.

Levon Henry. Outside of acoustic guitar and rhythm section, the first instruments in the “Sister Starling” opener are the lower-register woodwinds. They’re reminiscent of a cleaned-up but still ethereal mellotron, carving out the sonic universe of these recordings early on. Echoes of both his father’s records and certain Joni Mitchell. Henry isn’t on everything here, but he makes the most of his moments.

It took a minute to place, but that guitar tone in the title track reminds me of Talk Talk. The percussion and Fender Rhodes of this arrangement create the mood of later-afternoon sunlight flickering through the trees when you’re half-looking out the passenger side window.

The bonus acoustic disc. Physical product fans can buy a deluxe edition at O’Donovan’s Bandcamp page with several solo acoustic versions on a second disc (as of this writing, there were around 30 left).
It reveals that the songs benefited from production choices but stand just fine without them. “Phoenix” has a different appeal without the close harmonizing. Playing without a pick creates a different experience for “Sister Starling” and others compared to the album versions.

The ¾ bridge. And/or the 6/8 bridge. It comes up in a couple of songs. As usual, ¾ or 6/8 for a portion or in its entirety makes any song 37% cooler. That’s just science.

O’Donovan’s vocals. She’s not a belter. O’Donovan is comfortable with setting up and hitting higher notes, but she draws her own power from an unusual ability/choice to extend those notes while doing it quietly.

Joe Henry’s production. I have to admit, the press release got it right when it described the environment here as “dreamy, richly orchestrated — but never overwrought.” The cohesive atmosphere is all the more impressive given that the various contributing musicians recorded their parts remotely in at least 7 different locations.
In addition to making me want to check out some blind spots in O’Donovan’s earlier catalog, Age Of Apathy makes me want to do the same for Henry’s production credits.

“Passengers” featuring Madison Cunningham. The album contains more lush rewards, but the closing track is more immediately generous with the hooks and subtle earworm elements. Outright breezy in parts, the fortunate will have a radio station in town that will play it.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *