Album Review: Manhattan by Jeffrey Lewis & Los Bolts
Great, Based on 8 Critics
Punknews.org (Staff) - 90 Based on rating 4.5/5
For me, Jeffrey Lewis has always been an artist on the cusp of something truly brilliant. He's managed to occupy the space between Ramshackle Glory's tales of personal desperation and the poetry found on a Mountain Goats album. While all of his material has had a few gems on it, the number of slower songs where the music and his vocals can't keep me engaged for the duration of his longer songs have always been the reason I find myself disengaging from his albums.
Longtime fans of Jeffrey Lewis treat each of his albums like a returning old friend. We know what to expect by now – scratchy, lo-fi punk and croaky anti-folk – yet we also know his lyrical wit still has the capacity to surprise. Outta Town is a perfect example, a Cribsesque love song that appears at first to conform to standard tropes – “Is it Friday, is it Monday, I can’t tell without you?” – but it transpires that Lewis’s lover hasn’t left him; she has just gone to visit her mum for a couple of days, leaving him to confront the fact that he’s barely able to look after himself: “The recycling starts to pile up and smell without you.
Singer/songwriter and underground comic book artist Jeffrey Lewis is known for writing sharp, literate, touching, and often hilarious songs about subjects ranging from acid freakouts to historical events, but Manhattan (his seventh full-length for Rough Trade) focuses on tales relating to his home borough, resulting in some of his most personal songwriting to date. A few songs, such as "Scowling Crackhead Ian" and "Sad Screaming Old Man," paint lyrical portraits of eccentric characters, but most of the songs focus on personal issues such as relationships or music industry woes. Lewis is at his most immediate and rocking on "Outta Town," a fun, rollicking number about forgetting how to do basic, everyday things while his girlfriend's away visiting her family.
Wordy rapping in the ‘hood with the indie Woody Allen. Don’t be fooled by his sloppy slacker style and laconic manner. Jeffrey Lewis is a wordy powerhouse with a prolific output as a singer-songwriter, musical collaborator, comic artist, illustrator, lecturer and multimedia artist. ADVERTISINGinRead invented by Teads .
Bringing together a nihilistic world view, a self-deprecating sense of introspection and a healthy dollop of absurd humour, Jeffrey Lewis & Los Bolts strike a jolting blow straight to your soul on Manhattan. If you were having a fulfilled and meaningful 2015 up until now, then you may as well just go ahead and run yourself a cold shower, get in, sit down and let this album rock you back and forth into a nervous breakdown. Since his early albums of the noughties (The Last Time I Did Acid I Went Insane, It's the Ones Who've Cracked That the Light Shines Through and City and Eastern Songs – to mention but a few that are worth your increasingly limited time on this planet) Jeffrey Lewis has been on an unswerving mission to bring his singular world view to those who happen to chance upon him.
Over the course of seven albums, umpteen singles and countless comics Jeffrey Lewis has established himself as one of the sharpest and wittiest observers of life out there. This time he’s narrowed his focus to his home city, New York, yet this remains a universal collection, mercifully free of too many local in-jokes. While his delivery remains pleasingly rough roud the edges, Lewis has come a long way since initially finding recognition as part of the “antifolk” scene.
Although this is his first proper LP on Rough Trade Records since 2011’s overlooked A Turn In The Dream-Songs, Jeffrey Lewis has been far from idle; continuing his interlinked career as a cartoonist, collaborating with ex-Holy Modal Rounders ringleader Peter Stampfel, cutting a standalone single in tribute to the political travails of Pussy Riot, sneaking out a desirable self-released tour-CD as Jeffrey Lewis & The Jrams and – of course – plenty of life-blood gigging. Whether such interim activities distracted from or informed Manhattan is hard to gauge but certainly some wider experiences away from his regular record-releasing patterns seems to have refreshed his muse somewhat. Recording with his new backing ensemble Los Bolts, the album is loosely – very loosely in fact as it reaches the second half – conceptually connected to the titular NYC neighbourhood that Lewis still calls home, despite years of gentrification-driven relocations to Brooklyn for many other hand-to-mouth creatives.
We’re inundated with so much music now that, more and more, great collections of songs go unnoticed — especially when music critics go into hyperdrive during list-making season. So here’s the best music that SPIN slept on these past few months, including two of the great rhymers who still ….