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Like a number of listeners, I didn’t know anything about folky singer-songwriter Edwards until she started dating Justin (Bon Iver) Vernon and the news came out that he produced this album. Apparently this is a divorce record, and you know, personally it seems kind of odd that someone would have their new boyfriend produce it, but whatever.
Vernon adds lush arrangements to what I gather had been a sparse sound of mostly just acoustic guitar, and Edwards is game for anything, in interviews citing a desire not to be pigeonholed into one sound or genre. And so she’s got a batch of mostly downbeat breakup songs that Vernon does his best to make different from but complementary to each other. The tempos and beats are the biggest differences, from quiet support to insistent but still restrained rockers, but Vernon mainly layers every song with a lot of echoing backing vocals, keyboard chords and tastefully reversed guitars. The differences are usually smaller details like an idiosyncratic keyboard sound here, an atmospheric backing vocal effect there.
Edwards can write a decent tune, and it’s all pleasant in a very ’90s way. “A Soft Place to Land” could be a Sarah MacLachlan song, “Mint” a minor Sheryl Crow album cut (though I doubt Crow would take 50 seconds before her vocal started). Vocally, Edwards often sounds like a sweeter Suzanne Vega, singing in a more conspiratorial, conversational style. rarely pushing notes or letting go on what one presumes is pretty emotional material. Vernon seems content to try to cover the relaxed vocals up with lots of gauze and walls of sound when a more stark approach would have worked wonders on some songs like “Change the Sheets” or “Going to Hell”. It’s a nice sounding record, but hardly a triumph, and seems too intent on recalling a time in music that I don’t look back on with a particular fondness.