Has anyone noticed that indie rock, which used to concern itself primarily with guitar noise and indecipherable vocals, has now become something of a breeding ground for the singer/songwriter?
The remarkable success of The Magnetic Fields' 69 Love Songs was most likely the trend's proverbial match (to borrow an old psychedelic drug reference), and the music media's obsession with Conor Oberst, the flame. But whatever the cause, thank God for the effect, which has essentially been an across-the-board mellowing of formerly noise-heavy labels like Sub Pop.
Take, for example, Rosie Thomas, a solemn and unassuming vocalist who many critics are calling a modern-day Joni Mitchell. Only with Laughter Can You Win is her second album, and unlike her debut, which explored memories of Thomas' childhood, here we have Rosie considering her quarter-life crisis, but with the same hushed vocals and intimate sense of vulnerability that have earned her glowing testimonials of praise everywhere from Entertainment Weekly to Morning Edition. "Let Myself Fall," for instance, is a gorgeous, soaring track about Thomas' weakness in love, but instead of recording the song as a duet with a male vocalist, as might be expected, she has enlisted the help of her own mother, who, it turns out, has quite a striking vocal presence herself.
And although Thomas' entire family harmonizes with her on "I Play Music," a sort of inspirational love letter to her chosen career, most of the album is actually a very personal, existential crisis wrapped up in tender folk music. The best of the bunch is probably "Tell Me How," in which Thomas opines on suicide, abusive husbands and other such unpleasantries. But nearly every track here is both a readymade sing-a-long and a therapeutic purging, all at once.