Ten albums into their 27-year career, Son Volt seem to know exactly who they are. While some bands may dive into experimental sounds or new recording processes over time, the Jay Farrar-fronted alt-country legends have always stayed true to their roots. Even on 2013’s Honky Tonk — a departure from the cranked-up rock and roll of past records — Farrar’s lyrics and whirring voice keep the band firmly staked in the realm of who Son Volt have always been: genre-defining. And with their latest record, Electro Melodier, they continue laying claim as the definers of alternative country.
Similar to the dynamic duo of 2005’s Okemah and the Melody of Riot and 2007’s The Search, Son Volt has created an inimitable companion to 2019’s Union with this new LP. Farrar’s guitars are cranked up next to Chris Frame and Mark Spencer, and the driving rhythm of bassist Andrew DuPlantis and drummer Mark Patterson build an unforgettable foundation over the course of Electro Melodier. Songs like “Reverie” and “Arkey Blue” capture this band firing on all rock-and-roll cylinders, while other tracks — like “The Levee On Down” and the instant-classic “Livin’ in the USA” — find Farrar reaching for and exceeding new lyrical heights.
Among all the tracks, though, the unexpected standout is “Someday Is Now,” a song that starts out rather unassuming but builds into a pummeling force that will no doubt bring the listener back around to study and appreciate its intricacies. Farrar is political, prophetic, and concise as he opens: “Stop the death march, the worst that we’ve ever seen / Players of the long con, the circus life we don’t need.”
Ultimately, though, what one writer considers a standout is irrelevant, because the beauty of Electro Melodier is that it has the power to speak to each listener uniquely while perfectly capturing the universal experience of 2020 and beyond. On the hauntingly gorgeous “Diamonds and Cigarettes,” Farrar and Laura Cantrell’s voices ring into eternity as they sing, “For all the dreams we’ve lost and left / We’re still diamonds and cigarettes.”
However one might connect with those lyrics, the words point to a timeless truth later in the song, a truth worth pursuing no matter what: “We’re all survivors on the long road home.”