Released on October 7th is Abel’s second album, Music to Ground Yourself. The sophomore release shows a band that made moves to polish their sound. The singles “Mad River” and “Free Dog” preceded the album, letting fans know Abel was pushing their sound forward while retaining many of the qualities from “Happy Belated. The weighty sentiment of the lyrics is belied by the warmth of Music To Ground Yourself’s composition. The crackle and static on the bass guitar has a satisfying glow. The music feels like a good time but the lyrics are contemplative, often ruminating on difficult subjects. The album has even pacing throughout, which at times left me wanting for more tempo or key changes. Were the vocals presented out front on each track, this wouldn’t be an album to put on repeat. Yet Music to Ground Yourself wears its mask well and I found appeal in many of its tracks.
Music to Ground Yourself is fleshed out; the instrumentation of each track is more distinguishable than it is on Abel’s first album. The vocals have a quality that makes them feel strained around the edges. The vocal and guitar melodies often mirror one another. The drums tick along at an even pace, cymbal crashes staying light, to reverberate for a moment and fade away. Until they don’t, a fair few tracks have passages of sonic discord. Mid album track “Bruised Eye” stands out in particular. The lyrics recount a day in the life: “Parker went for a walk again this time for real/ and when he started jogging it didn’t feel real/ what has he done for himself with the bruised eye with the running legs.” A person goes out for some exercise and all the while thinks of the opportunities life presents, the exhaustion preparation can bring on. It wrestles with what most of us do, things both good and bad for ourselves, stepping up to life’s challenges or not. This track is underpinned by a wheezing organ, which lends it a sighing sadness. The vocals are clean and tell an interesting story. It hangs together well. There is space for each instrument to breathe.
“…Use The Leaves” is another standout track. The guitars feel fat, the vocals distant and the drums insistent. It is one of the points on this album where a song reaches an unwinding sense of chaos. The weight of the album’s themes: life, death, purpose, and finally peace, all coming out sonically, rather than lyrically, in little over a minute. Then in contrast to “…Use The Leaves”, “Thank God” starts pretty and slow, a fitting album closer. From the get, it is about being and feeling at home: “The day goes on and I just wanna be at home/ writing songs on the couch with my guitar/ My mama doesn’t love me playing in the garage every weekend.” It is a relatable sentiment about home, the good with the bad. “Thank God” wends on for a little over six minutes, balladic in length and composition. There is a breakdown in the middle, with plucky guitars and a dragging tempo. Given its length, “Thank God” is able to pull together the sounds of the album and give it a compositional cohesiveness, a conclusion statement of a track.
It may take a listener several spins of the black circle to notice the bleak pithiness of “Thank God”, and many others. Music To Ground Yourself is wrapped in warm guitars that disguise heavy themes. At times it might strike too close to home, but that is evidence of how personal the lyrics become. Life and art are not guaranteed to be easy or for everyone. Abel put out a solid album that can be harsh but rewarding.