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While Ray LaMontagne’s fame came from his reputation as a troubled crooner, his latest album Supernova takes a drastic step away from heartbreak. In it’s place, LaMontagne presents an album that is filled with sunny, psychedelic rhythms. While Otis Redding and Van Morrison still remain prevalent influences to the artist, LaMontagne’s latest effort seems to draw from the folksy sound of Simon & Garfunkel as well as Neil Young. Fans looking for the pained sound of LaMontagne’s previous release Gossip In The Grain won’t find the ballads they desire. The beauty of nature, love, and pure existence fuels each song on Supernova. On this release, tumbling drums and foggy guitars back the chalky voice of LaMontagne. A full house band, rather than just his acoustic guitar, backs LaMontagne on almost every song. Thanks to Dan Auerbach, Black Keys frontman and the album’s producer, Supernova’s positive vibrations feel only like a logical progression for LaMontagne. Supernova’s achievement as an album comes from LaMontagne’s ability to still innovate five albums deep, avoiding the droll and lack of creativity that sometimes comes at said point in a musician’s career. With all these pros outweighing the cons of LaMontagne’s change in sound, it only makes sense that Supernova be our May Album of the Month.
Born in rural New Hampshire, LaMontagne’s first claim to fame came 10 years ago, when TROUBLE was released via RCA records. The album was certified gold and saw Grammy praise as well. The artist’s hazy tenor, along with his mix of folk and R&B, made him into a contemporary folk sensation. Many of his tracks since then have been featured in multiple TV shows and movies such as Grey’s Anatomy and She’s The Man. His fame only increased with his 2007 release Gossip In The Grain, which had a stronger focus on R&B. The lead single off the album, “You Are The Best Thing,” saw international praise and made LaMontagne into a global icon. His heartbroken vocals had become his DNA. Therefore, when this latest album removed those painful tremors completely, it seemed quite a feat for the singer to take on. LaMontagne not only risked losing his fan base, but fading into the dark completely. However, LaMontagne reminds us yet again that even in a culture largely dominated by pop and hip-hop, folk and rock still have a definite place in music.
Tracks such as “Lavender,” “No Other Way,” and “Pick Up a Gun,” show LaMontagne’s new found psychedelic sound at its best on Supernova. “Lavender” and “No Other Way” play like Simon & Garfunkel with louder drums, while “Pick Up a Gun” is morphed by foggy vocals and Neil Young reminiscent guitar strums. More up-beat tracks like “She’s The One” and “Drive In Movies” bring back the Contemporary Folk sound of LaMontagne’s time with the Pariah Dogs. Anyone scavenging this album for a hint of the old LaMontagne will be satisfied by the title track, however be warned it’s a stretch of a comparison at best. From the first track to last, LaMontagne made it clear to shed his old heartbroken skin in exchange for a more joyful sound. When discussing Supernova, LaMontagne described it as “an enjoyable process. These songs reflect just my joy of songwriting, what I enjoy about writing songs. they feel free to me. I didn’t have to go searching around through cupboards to find the missing pieces; all the puzzle bits would just sort of burst to life in front of me. I just grabbed them and pieced them together and then would be surprised at what was in front of me — like, ‘Wow, that’s cool!’”
The positive vibes given off by Supernova never come off forced. It’s clear LaMontagne’s ambition to change his sound was completely his own, and as a result of the five years of honing it, he has crafted a summertime-ready album. Supernova is bursting with positive, technicolor energy. The album as a whole satisfies in a way only a LaMontagne album can. You’ll leave the album feeling hopeful with a smile on your face. The only difference this time is that your grin may be a little bigger. Since it’s summertime after all, that doesn’t seem to bad does it?