It's hard for modern folk artists to breakthrough into the public eye without that 'indie' edge. Fleet Foxes and Mumford & Sons achieved moderate success in 2008, with Fleet Foxes releasing an astonishingly beautiful second album in 2011. Anaïs Mitchell releases arguably the best concept album in the last decade with Hadetown in 2010, however it wasn't picked up and it found it's place among the underground folk artists and the newspaper critics of Great Britain. Backed by Ani DiFranco, Anaïs Mitchell has the vocal skill of Joanna Newsom and the lyrical attributes of Leonard Cohen.
What we have here is an eleven track album of crisp dynamic lyricism. The story behind Hadestown was always going to be the focal discussion point, but here she can't use the concept as a focus, she has to rely on her own songwriting and her ability to capture modern listeners without alienating those Hadestown lovers. 'Wilderland' is primarily a two chord song with a few progressive changes, It has a focus on soundscapes and her vocal harmonies. The 'American' sounds are clearly understood and her lyrics represent that of being a 'mother'. She mentioned in an interview the daunting fact of being child-less at aged 30.
Wilderland flows nicely into the title track 'Young Man In America'. This track has a striking guitar riff and the lyrics are extraordinary. The amount of imagery Anaïs delivers is quite spectacular even for her standards. Her vocals reach new heights and the incoming vocal harmonies set the mood. This track has a lovely brass section towards the end which closes the track. Enter 'Coming Down'. This one is possibly Anaïs Mitchell's best. The piano enters with authenticity. The layered vocals are set perfectly and the vocal style is depressing and desperate to say the least. The acoustic guitar is to die for and the listener will notice the flying strings enter and fade aligned to the vocal repetition.
'Dyin Day' has a steady drum beat and the acoustic guitar is focused on the left. The right side has a country-esque electric guitar. The vocals are well harmonised and the track picks up with some bass and banjo towards the right side. The instrumentation is reminiscent of Hadestown. This is like the cool down, the answer, it's lyricism at its best and Anaïs doesn't fail to pin a good vocal melody. The back half is an instrumental and it's smooth but lacking that extra bit of power that Hadestown would have delivered here.
'Venus' is pacy. It's extremely energetic and lasts for approximately two minutes. it's the shortest track on the album and focuses on a simple riff, building upon it with her typical instruments with the lovely harmonica inclusion towards the end. 'He Did' has the Mitchell special finger picking style. it's slow and has expected vocal harmonies and layers. She sings highly and her lyrics are sung with passion. She's always had the story telling aesthetic and 'Annemarie' brings to light a lovely little lay of love. Her guitar sounds squeaky and almost out of tune at points, this wasn't expected. It's a very unpredictable track with the light percussion and bass entering and progressing out of time signature.
This is a very masculine album. She sings in both first and third person to great extent. 'Tailor' is what I'd call a ballad. Much alike Bruce Springsteen and very western orientated, this track borders uplifting and depressing. The lyrics are great and the situational imagery enters the fray instead of the incredible array of instruments. Piano being rather unnoticeable as the reverb has not been applied and the piano enters and leaves at certain points, it's used as a boost. One lyric stands out to me on this track, "Didn't I drink her nipple dry, who am I?".
It's been said Mitchell's father is a major influence on her writing, with 'Shepherd' being inspired by a story written by her father. This track is the longest on the album and the imagery is telling me to explore this story further. The focus is on parenting ans that;s the recurring theme surrounding this album. 'You Are Forgiven' has uncharacteristic brass work separating the verses. It's unpredictable and the production (replace acoustic guitar with a synth) could be passed off as Brian Eno recording Talking Heads. The lovely twinges and drumming play a major part in this track and it's one of my favourites based on the final instrumental segments and vocal repetition.
'Ships' is the ideal closer. The household soundscapes have been placed with childhood at mind. The guitar swirls to the left and the glimmering chimes give off that uplifting vibe, all eclipsed by Mitchell's vocal harmony. The strings enter as expected, giving off a small 'climax' before Mitchell delivers one last verse. The strings are parallel to the brass and the climax finally hits. It's the expected closer and I wouldn't have it any other way. This album needs something bright to end the lows and questions the entire piece had. it slowly comes to a close, leaving Hadestown in the dark and with Mitchell entering a new, independent period with a backing of 11 beautiful tracks.