The Album is Not Dying, Despite What You May Have Heard

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Like great albums before, "Shangri La" aims to create and maintain a mood through the sequence of its material. Concept? Yeah, there's one: fill the determined time and space with inspiration. There aren't many guitar solos, though "All Your Reasons" dissolves with Neil/Crazy Horse psychedelia and our boy Jake gets 15 seconds to shred on "Kingpin," a blur of clubland riffage and exploding hair that gives the LP a kick in the ass near the midpoint. Bugg goes lightest on "Pine Trees," but that solo acoustic number feels big as Laurel Canyon with crow flying imagery and vocal conviction. If there's a weak link it's "Kitchen Table," which sounds a tad like Crosby Stills & Nash discovering electric piano, but there are more songs like LP-closing "Storm Passes Away," a bit of country gospel, that ring so true as to be beyond judgement.

The album's sprawling moment of spiritual envelopment is "Simple Pleasures," which looks back at the scuffling 2012 Bugg as if from the window of a train bound for glory. The Oasis influence shines through like hangover sunlight, but Bugg emerges naked and unselfconscious. It's as stunning as any five minutes of music you'll hear all year. But it works best in the context of all the other songs it's bound to under the Shangri La cover.

I've been listening to Shangri La on my computer all weekend from an NPR "First Listen" segment, but I'm going to buy the CD today for a couple reasons. 1) This is my kind of Kickstarter: you make a great album and I'll buy it. Thank you, here's $15. And 2) CDs sound better than MP3s.

Not being an audiophile in the least, I can't back up number two with any data. Computer, stereo, car -- it all sounded the same. Until the night I spent on a couch in a storage shed a few months ago. I had spent the day going through all my shit and I was too tired to drive the hour home, so I thought I'd catch a couple hours of shut-eye and then head home in the morning light. I put on a CD, moving boxes to get there, then went back and laid down. "Every Picture Tells a Story" by Rod Stewart played from beginning to end without interruption, without clicking to a song from a different album I was reminded of. I listened to it with a depth of sound you don't get from your computer speakers and noted how even the weaker tracks had their places in setting up the LP cornerstones. It was one of my favorite listening experiences in years, and since then I've gone back to some of my favorite albums and played them from beginning to end, as they were designed to be heard.

The album format is magical. And Shangri La is what happens when you have what it takes to make a great one. I've been playing this Jake Bugg record over and over, and this week when it hits stores, I get to own it.


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