IN THE NEXT LIFE by Maria Taylor

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in the next life

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Genre: Indie Folk

Favorite Tracks: “If Only”

Once you start listening to a lot of music, it becomes really hard to not evaluate an album on its own merits without comparing it to other artists. While obvious inspiration and emulation should be noted, it also shouldn’t detract from an objective analysis of the album independent from everything else in its genre. However, that was incredibly difficult while listening to IN THE NEXT LIFE, and every comparison I made only made Maria Taylor’s sixth solo effort all the more frustrating.

Formerly of the shimmering, rustic dream pop duo Azure Ray, Maria Taylor has brought together numerous collaborators from the indie scene, including Conor Oberst and Mike Bloom of Rilo Kiely, for what should have been a magnum opus of indie music and alt-folk. It had all the ingredients necessary for a warm, gorgeous album that could have soundtracked numerous end-of-episode montages on network TV, but little annoyances and instrumental misfires slowly creep into the forefront and build into a massive weight that the songwriting and vocals cannot carry.

On the surface, there doesn’t seem to be much wrong with IN THE NEXT LIFE. The core requirements required of alt-folk seem to be accounted for, from the vocals that favor comfort and serenity over rawness or aggression, to the sweeping instrumentals filled with banjos, pianos, and acoustic guitars. However, IN THE NEXT LIFE fills in every tickbox on the indie checklist and has no idea what to do after that, resulting in songs with good base ideas but painfully awkward executions. The only song that has a satisfying execution is “If Only” with Conor Oberst, with a wonderful, sweeping, harmonious crescendo reminiscent of Of Monsters and Men and a balanced tone of deep regret over the past, yet hopefulness for the future. Every superbly mixed instrument comes in at the right moments, something that can’t be said about anything else on IN THE NEXT LIFE.

For an example of a botched execution, look at the misfire of a non-crescendo on “There’s Only Now” and its chorus. It also features dorky, stiff guitar rhythms out of a bad Black Keys song that pop up on other tracks like “Free Song” far too often. In fact, several instruments suffer from monotonous melodies off one note repeated over and over, like the glockenspiel on “Flower Moon.” For how many elements there are in the mix, IN THE NEXT LIFE doesn’t give them anything of substance. It’s handing out menial jobs to people just because they need some form of work, rather than give them something worthwhile.

All of this could have been made up for if Maria had the intriguing lyrics, vocal charisma, or Fiona Apple-esque eccentricity a good singer-songwriter needs to justify how focused on the individual the music is, but Maria has none of those things. It pales in comparison lyrically to collaborator Conor Oberst’s RUMINATIONS, and her vocals are often too washed out and saturated to create the intimacy that IN THE NEXT LIFE needs. They might work in a dream pop album, but their manipulations and the additional vocal chants and harmonies remove the human touch indie folk needs. The rest of the mix is just as sloppy, with some instruments being too weak, like her voice, and other parts having been sharpened to an annoying, distracting degree.

For all its faults, IN THE NEXT LIFE does not feel long at only 34 minutes. Over that time, however, every little thing it does wrong got under my skin and culminated into one of the most annoying listening experiences I have had in awhile. Everything it tries to do has been done a thousand times better by another singer-songwriter or figure in the indie folk scene. Instead of being a magnum opus for indie folk, it should serve as a handbook on what indie folk should not sound like.

Verdict: Do Not Recommend

Unqualified, unfiltered, unbiased, but not uninspired reviewer of whatever these people tell me to review.

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