The incredible quartet known as Lake Street Dive released a phenomenal new album titled Bad Self Portraits that highlights their timeless pop sound. Fusing elements of jazz, blues, and classic American rock n’ roll, the blend of vocals and instruments create truly unique sounds. What’s really wonderful about this album, besides Rachel Price’s stunning lead vocals, is that it sounds like a variety of songs you’ve heard before, but they are not. In other words, they have the ability to be both nostalgic and fresh. This is a truly great album.
The first track, “Bad Self Portraits” is the title track and a nice upbeat start to the album. With a nice back-beat driven rhythm, the combination of the rhythm section helps to push a creative conceptual song. “I’m taking bad self portraits of a lonely woman…” Even the male listeners can connect to those personal moments of self doubt and even self hate. Starting with something a bit more psychologically compelling than typical “pop” music, the deeper message comes through in surprisingly positive sounds and chord progressions.
The gang vocal opener on “Stop Your Crying” leads into a hard-hitting rock song. In a track that could have easily been released in 1972, there are flashes of Fleetwood Mac and Heart in this sound. It all comes together in a message that is meant to be a reassurance of reconnecting lovers. “I know better but here I go again…” The intricate chord changes (more minor turns that I could count) balanced with the upbeat, fantastic harmonies give the song a truly unique sound.
One of my favorite tracks on the album is “Better Than,” which highlights a sultry characteristic is Price’s vocals with the bass and the organ in the background. “Better than pretending to know what’s wrong or what’s right…” It’s a sort of classic 60s sound with the world-defining questions of life in the post modern era. Oh, and the trumpet… I mean that sexy, sexy trumpet just makes the song. “Turn down the lights… come on baby come inside…” With a horn line like that… indeed.
“You Go Down Smooth” has been a part of LSD’s repertoire for quite a while now and it’s a real hit. This is not like “indie music blog” good. This is legit, big commercial radio good. This song reflects a bygone era when powerful female vocals could drive a jazz-influenced pop ballad. The song is about an intoxicating lover… the kind that we know is no good for us, but is just so good at what they do. The backing vocals on this seriously sound like they’re right out of Motown. Did someone reopen Stax and not tell us? Such a great record. This one is on the year end short list, for sure.
“Use Me Up” is essentially a song of exasperation. “You use me up and you wear me down.” It is upbeat with a sad, almost tragic message. But then the following curiously-titled “Bobby Tanqueray” has a bit more mystery to it. It is, in short, about a crush. But it’s got a kind of early 80s guitar-heavy vibe to it. If I didn’t know better, I’d think a girl with crimped hair wrote this one. All that warps it back in time is the layered backing vocals that keep it bell-hop-1950s worthy. In either event it’s a nice upbeat jam to push the album. (FYI no idea what’s going on with the reverb on the amps, but it definitely supports the mid-20th century sound).
“Just Ask” slows it down a bit. With a blues root and a lamenting tone, the songstress reassures her suitor to just ask, “I’ll do anything for you… all you gotta do is ask.” This one reminds me a bit of traditional southern blues with some Ray Charles era backing. It’s extremely evident that this band is in touch with some pretty phenomenal classic music.
The twangier, but still vibrant “Seventeen” is a pretty amazing concept. It’s about someone a bit older who has learned about the difficult things that happen in life and the ugliness of people, wishing that she could go back to age 17 and try to make it work. There’s a mutual love interest, but she just knows that things could not work in their situation. She’s ultimately condemning his decision to “make some fool his queen.” The classic blues guitars on this track really make it pop.
The closing track “Rental Love” is a tad slower with a reflective kind of Billy Joel vibe to it. “When we were having a good time I got a little sentimental… the rental of your love is all that you gave up but I wanted it all.” Anyone who’s ever been in a relationship where the other person was not all that committed but you were… this is definitely the song for you. It’s deep, sincere, and full of glorious piano-based beautiful chord progressions. It’s another favorite on an album that is full of top-to-bottom hits.
This is a must-buy album for fans of real, genuine pop music. If vocal blending, toe-tapping, dance-inducing music makes you happy, you need to get this music. With a sound that’s ripe for live shows and the festival circuit, I’m sure this is just one of many, many great albums this band will produce. Allow them to take you on a lyrical, musical, enjoyable tour of 20th century American pop music that investigates some very popular themes about life and love.