American singer-songwriter Ray LaMontagne has released his fifth studio album, Supernova. It is ten years since Lamontagne gave up his day job and made his way onto the music scene with hit song Trouble. Up until his last studio effort Gossip in the Grain, released five years ago, his sound has been firmly rooted in Folk. However, recorded by Dan Auerbach (Black Keys) in Nashville, Supernova takes a decided step away from those roots of gristly folk, to an album that is drenched in the waters of 1960’s California.
This is immediately clear in album opener Lavender. An atmospheric tune covered from head to toe in psychedelic swirls. Its harmonies, instrumentation and occasional hiss from LaMontagne all scream Pacific Highway. Things easily slide into groove on Airwaves and She’s the One, the latter occupying some clever phrasing and classic hints of LaMontagne’s rustic vocal style of old. We take a trip into the seventies on Pick Up the Gun, which weighs heavy with dreamy, abstract melodies and an undertone of almost supernatural harmonies. This is musically, the furthest afield we have heard LaMontagne and is the biggest step out from his cosy comfort zone yet. It’s an experiment, but one that he seems to be at ease with.
Lead single and title track Supernova is perhaps a move back to the more structured rock song. It’s jumpy, poppy and a timely change in dynamic from the rest of the album. This approach somewhat continues with Ojai, full of hooks with a sense of sixties soul. It would appear LaMontagne is having a lot of fun on this record and the breezier outlook serves him well. The album draws to a close as it begun – layered with hazy overtones and an ethereal glow. Smashing could have been lifted straight off an early Pink Floyd album where Drive-In Movies perhaps exhibits Auerbach’s influence more so than we have previously heard.
Supernova is a very different listen for fans of Ray LaMontagne. It is a progression from the intimate sound he has built up over the last ten years and a shift into what seems to be the more relaxed, free-flowing musical process. Dan Auerbach’s influence is clear, yet not so intrusive as to spoil things and the two have connected in a way that proves to have been a successful partnership. LaMontagne has taken a foray into the unknown for his latest effort, and has created a set of songs that stand tall amongst his others. It’s refreshing, imaginative, and is the sound of a man who has plenty more to offer.