The older I get, the less proficient I prove to be at seeking out new music. So the NPR year end, best of lists are a highly anticipated event in my book, as multiple curated lists are released at once, containing dozes of the most current and cutting edge music, much of it falling into those genres I prize above all others. Alongside the genius of Spotify, NPR takes so much of the work out of discovering new artists. And I relish it.
I decided to dig into my NPR Suggestions playlist while cleaning house the other night. Things started off with Frank Turner’s Tape Deck Heart album… and didn’t really get much further. I was familiar with his popular single “Recovery,” a song that spanned multiple genres to receive airplay on indie, traditional rock, and mix radio stations. It was catchy and upbeat, but by no means one of my favorite songs of the year. So I skipped said song, the opening track of the album, to “Losing Days,” whisking right on through the hefty 16-track record. I’d say 16 songs is quite a lot to see on a single album these days, but I found myself wishing Tape Deck Heart was even longer. For once in my life, I was sad to finish my cleaning duties since there was still so much music to listen to.
Though I would originally have categorized it as pop-rock, Turner’s music touches some of my pop-punk heartstrings, which were conditioned to instantly love a certain musical aesthetic made popular during my high school years. I hear strains of the emo sounds of yore most on “Plain Sailing Weather,” a brooding, moody, fast-paced song of self-loathing and regret. Turner’s overall vibe is far from emo; in fact, his tunes are by and large peppy and upbeat, driven by guitars and confident vocals, falling more accurately under the folk-punk genre. But I not-so-secretly relish the punky darkness that emerges from time to time, reminding me of a simpler time in my life, when my musical tastes were much more simple too.
“Four Simple Words” – those words being I want to dance – starts out as a sweet little pop ditty about the connections between performer and artist. Pretty soon the songs kicks things up a notch, channeling an Irish rock sound in a fun, driving, and almost angry tune about authenticity in the music world, the experience of a rock show, and being fueled by nothing more than a love of music. Another shining moment on Turner’s album comes in the final minute of “The Fisher King Blues,” when the song soars into a beautiful round, anthemic and perfectly suited for a big ol’ live sing-along. “Polaroid Picture” was a quick favorite of mine, a tune about childhood nostalgia and dealing with change which showcases Turner’s mastery of the swelling chorus effect. Then there’s the Mellencamp-esque melody of “We Shall Not Overcome,” another great sing-along song of uncertainty and figuring out the messier parts of life with lyrics that are bound to instantly stick in your head after a single listen.
Lyrically, Turner is very accessible and straightforward, sophisticated but not veiling his meaning with too much metaphor or vague imagery as other artists are frustratingly wont to do. Musically, the Frank Turner sound is similarly wide in appeal, abstaining from anything overly complicated or pretentious but retaining a unique edge. It’s patently clear that Frank Turner deeply loves music, the experience of creating and sharing it with others. And that is something that draws people to an artist, crossing boundaries of genre and taste. Plus the songs are just plain fun, begging to be played full volume with the car windows rolled down on a sunny spring’s day.