Ray LaMontagne’s career is impressive, if for nothing but his continued success in the face of his own idiosyncrasies. After several songs from his debut Trouble became the soundtracks to shows like Grey’s Anatomy, he began to follow his own whims away from standard folk-rock fare. His 2014 album Supernova, produced by The Black Keys’ Dan Auerbach, was a heady trip of an album, all sixties-styled psychedelic rock. Ouroboros continues to follow this muse to its logical conclusion, with it’s in lengthy tracks, prog-inspired echoes, and two-sided structure.
Recorded with production from My Morning Jacket’s Jim James, it’s easy to see that band’s spaced-out textures and aimless song-structures represented on Ouroboros. Lead single Hey, No Pressure sees LaMontagne’s breathy vocals contrasted against a growling lead guitar riff, and surrounded by atmospheric effects. The track is spacious, and it’s easy to get lost in its six-and-a-half minute sprawl. The track leading off the second side of the record – In My Own Way – is its exact opposite, relaxed and emotional, even as LaMontagne boasts “I’ll spend the day in my own way”. The song’s airy spaces conjure both relief and melancholy in equal measure, and the album takes its power from this dichotomy. Is the jagged guitar in the pre-chorus a celebration of independence, or a condemnation of isolation?
The weakest track is actually the opener, Homecoming. Whilst it begins with moody pianos and echoes, the track simply lacks the depth to maintain interest throughout what is almost nine minutes. The opening minute and closing one are separated by little besides a light drum beat, and the song lacks a sense of development as a consequence. It’s an example of the album’s laid-back atmosphere working against it, and outstaying its welcome if the listener isn’t quickly immersed in its groove.
Ouroboros maintains LaMontagne’s trajectory away from his early pop work, and towards increasingly challenging and psychedelic territory. He at his best when he lets the emotion of his songwriting become outsized and dramatic, like in In My Own Way. Whilst the apparent aimlessness of some tracks becomes overbearing, the rest of the album is so smooth and lush that it more than makes up for it.