Six days ago, the host of what is probably my favorite YouTube channel, Jordan Taylor of Blimey Cow, released his first album as a musician and songwriter. It is my favorite album at the moment, and so I decided that it would be a swell idea to review it as my Wednesday Music post. I'm going to give you some details about the album itself and my anticipation and initial reactions to the album, and then do an in-depth song by song review, and finally end with a quick acid test that in the future I'm going to ask all albums to pass.
Long Drive is almost two years in the making. In September of 2013, the Blimey Cow crew launched a Kickstarter for a full-length instrumental album entitled If You Don't Have Anything Nice To Say. By the end of the campaign, the project had double the funding they had asked for, and work on the album begun. Due to lots of crazy life things, Jordan finishing up school, and the inevitability of having to work on Blimey Cow as the most important thing, the album had some delays that pushed it long past the initial deadline. And somewhere along the way, the album switched gears and became a lyrical one. But I think that time spent writing, demoing, and rewriting was worth the wait--one of the things that I noticed first about the album was that I could just feel the amount of work that went into it.
The album, which eventually shed the first title and taken the name of Long Drive, has had a lot of anticipation behind it. It's practically all that has been talked about on the Blimey Cow Podcast for the past six months (well, okay, not the only thing). The first single was released on June 11th of this year, the song "Need Each Other", and I have to admit, the first time I listened to it, I wasn't all that excited. I was starting to be sort of skeptical about the album. "Need Each Other" is definitely my least favorite song on the album--the vocals seemed a little off, and it was also just sort of...bland. More pop-y than I like my music to be.
But then, June 26th, the album released. And my skepticism was proven very, very wrong. The entire album is a journey, one person, and his life. It's also about a relationship, and many of the songs revolve around the development of that relationship. The thread that runs through all of the songs is the concept inherent in the title. There are a lot of lines about driving in a car, and it gives the album a nice theme, I think. Well, without further ado, here's the song by song review.
The first track on the album is a song about a journey, restlessness, and a longing for companionship. It's definitely a lovely opening to the album, and it was almost enough to convince right out of the gate that I might have been wrong about my skepticism with the album. The guitar bits are quite good, (both acoustic and electric) though it is Jordan Taylor, so I shouldn't be surprised by that. He is a wizard on the guitar. The harmonica is my favorite instrument on this track, however, and gives the song a nice sense of "going on a journey" that makes it a good opener. My favorite line of the song is "I know I shouldn't search for feelings, 'cause when that chase is all that consumes you all this intentional living turns to thoughts of only you." It was that line that put a smile on my face when I started listening to the album all the way through and was the point where I decided I was going to like Long Drive.
This is where the relationship arc truly begins--the main character of the album is in the beginning stages of a relationship, and the track is a great love song. Even though the one weakness of this album is that I'm not sure Jordan's vocals are quite up to the task sometimes, I think the sound of his voice really compliments this track nicely. The sense of a bit of hesitation in his voice fits the hesitation in the song's lyrics. The instruments are nice--as always, the acoustic guitar is well done, and the background organ, acoustic guitar, and drums give it a nice backbone.
This is my favorite love song of the album. The track details the part of a relationship where you want to spend every waking moment with the person you love, and the joy and fulfillment you get from just spending that time with them. It's adorable, and the instrumentation compliments the romantic and peppy lyrics very well. The whistling, snapping, and "la-la-ing" give it a nice carefree feel that fits nicely. My favorite lyric is "That's when I realized I'm at home with your eyes. How could this be considered wasting time?"
This track is the beginning of the darker portions of the album. It's also my favorite track, not only because I got shivers from the wonderful instrumentation, but also because Jordan's sister-in-law Kelli sings on this track, and she has an absolutely amazing voice. The song is about a car drive and the point in a relationship where you start to wonder if you should move on. It's very reminiscent of Rise Against's "The Approaching Curve". That's one of the reasons I like the song so much. I've always enjoyed minor key, darker songs over happy ones, for some reason. I'm a very happy person normally, but I tend to be a bit dramatic as well, so that's probably why. It was at this point in the album that I was completely sold on it. I like all of the lyrics in this song, but the one that sticks out to me is "The light turns green and recklessly we're doing sixty in a thirty."
This is another great track, almost on par with "Separation", but not quite. It begins with the genius line "Listen: Don't listen to me, 'cause honestly, honesty isn't my forte these days." The acoustic guitar is fantastic, as always, but it's definitely the electric guitar lick in the background and the percussion (a bleach bottle filled with rocks) that gives the song the shiver-worthy instrumentation it needed. This continues to follow the relationship arc inherent in most of the songs, and it further continues to reveal the insecurity, doubts, and struggles of our main protagonist.
Need Each Other
As I've previously mentioned, "Need Each Other" is my least favorite track on the album. That's not to say it's not worth listening to--there are plenty of people who listened to it and loved it. I'm just not one of them. The vocals just aren't strong enough for what the song needed, I feel, and it's rather pop-y and bland in general. I think part of the problem with this song for me is I didn't hear in the sequence with the other songs, and I believe that would've made me like it more. As part of the arc of the album, it is very important, and shows more of the car drive theme and the doubts and insecurities inherent in the psyche of the album. The bridge is probably my favorite part of the song--it has a nice driving feel and the vocals are the best there than anywhere else on the song.
The most folk-ish song on the album, "Home" is also one of my favorite tracks, for precisely that reason. I'm a sucker for a good folk song, and Jordan Taylor delivers with this one. The acoustic guitar gives it its heart, the clapping percussion gives it the core. and the other instruments--harmonica and violin--give it all the bells and whistles it needs to be a great folk song. The vocals are nice and folky, but also fit very nicely with the whole tone of the album. The gang vocals ("hey" in the background) also add a lot, and the spoken word bit in the middle of the song is also one of my favorite parts of the album. "It used to hurt to look back, but now the hurt's okay."
Now we're arcing back down towards a darker theme. This is probably my third favorite song on the album, for many reasons. The instrumentation is definitely shiver-worthy--the acoustic guitar goes without saying, and all the background sounds add to the dark nature of the song. The lyrics are my favorite part, though. I've been in this place before. I've felt these feelings. And that makes me love this song. "I probably deserve to stay this way--trying to wrestle my demons alone. But at least they're demons I know..."
Feet of Shadows
This is my second favorite track on the album and has the coolest instrumentation by far. The electric guitar makes this song, and it is so good. If any song's sound is shiver-worthy, it's this one. The lyrics and the vocals are fantastic, dark, and deep. And the build-up to the climax is awesome. The song continues the dark theme and the relationship theme and brings them near to a climax, and what a great climax that will be. But we'll get there. There's not much else to say about the song, given that it's the shortest on the album, but it one of the best and I love it.
This is the calm before the storm. An instrumental piece featuring the acoustic guitar that is aptly named. It's a beautiful piece, and it does exactly what it's supposed to do--it lets you (and our main character) reflect on everything that's happened before driving home to the climax of the album. Not much else to say on it, and it's not really one of my favorite songs or anything, but is definitely essential to the arc.
Don't Let Me Go
And we reach the end of the arc. All of our protagonist's doubts and insecurities and relationship problems come to a head here, and he cries out to God, "Don't let me go." It's a wonderful climax to the album,\ and ties up all of the mistakes and the darker build-up that's been evident in the songs all the way through. It's also one I definitely relate with. I've cried this out to God many a time. Nothing in particular about the instrumentation stands out to me on this one, though it is good--the lyrics and the whole feel of the song just trump any individual instrument or riff. "The sun doesn't rise before it sets."
This is a great album, all-in-all, and I cannot wait to see what Jordan Taylor has in store for us musically in the future. This album was a journey, and it was one I was delighted to have gone on. One of the best parts of Long Drive is the contrast and comparison evident throughout--each song is very different--stylistically and lyrically--yet it is threaded through with common themes and a story that really draws you in. In a way, it very neatly emulates life and its ups and downs. There is technically one more track on the album, a bonus track entitled Beginning. I've listened to it before (I got it on NoiseTrade and listened to it on YouTube) and it is totally worth the listen. It remains one of my favorite acoustic guitar pieces.
I've started to realize that I have three acid tests for albums/artists. If they can pass those three, then they're going to have me hooked. Sometimes they can bypass these, and there are other things that can get me sold on music, but these three have become very consistent for new lyrical artists I'm listening to.
- Did the music give me shiver-worthy moments? And the answer to this, for Long Drive, is an emphatic YES. Especially "Separation", "Listen", "Home", and "Feet of Shadows". I had many moments during the listening of this album when I had moments of shiver and "wow, that was a cool bit." "Feet of Shadows" probably trumps them all, though, because it is just that good musically.
- Did the lyrics reveal another layer of meaning on a second listen? This is one of my favorite things about songs--re-listening and gaining further meaning from lyrics you didn't realize were that deep. And Jordan Taylor delivered here. There are a lot of songs where you have to do a double-take on the lyrics and then you just smile because they're so good and poignant.
- Can I relate to the lyrics and the meaning behind the songs? Another emphatic yes. Especially "Long Drive" and "Don't Let Me Go", though there were smatterings of this in almost all of the songs. This album made me think about my current life situation in ways that I hadn't before, and that's one of the best recommendations I can give it.
Well, that's all! I hope you enjoyed reading about music that I enjoyed, and I hope you give it a listen! If you want to check out Jordan Taylor's website, here it is! He's going through a series of blog posts right now talking about the making of each song on the album, and he's releasing old demos of each of them! Pretty cool. Oh, and here's a link to the most recent Blimey Cow Podcast episode, where Jordan talks about the making of each song in brief.
As always, thanks for reading.