For all the hype that’s persisted around Alexisonfire through their reunion over the last few years, Dallas Green’s City And Colour output hasn’t been given nearly the same amount of airtime. It’s not necessarily a surprise – sonically, the two are very different, and Green’s favouring of folk and Americana tones here was always going to produce a less commercially appealing product – but it’s also unfair to see an artist displaying two individual but equally enormous branches of talent go by with one of them being almost completely ignored. Despite how excellent it was, no one really talks about 2015’s If I Should Go Before You, something that’s proven unfortunately consistent with City And Colour output as great albums have simply come and gone, or dismissed as an aged side-project that’s not as viable as Alexisonfire. And sadly, that general consensus might have leached down into A Pill For Loneliness, an album arriving with next to no fanfare seemingly because of Green’s continued path down the expansive but understated folk-rock of his previous album.
And in this particular case, it’s not like that’s entirely unwarranted. This is a profound slow-burn of an album that might be a bit too slow at points, and when it’s almost an hour long as it is, there’s definitely a momentum issue here that’s more noticeable than even previous City And Colour albums. But that’s also to be expected to some degree, and when factoring in just how lush and beautiful Green crafts these burgeoning melodies to be, A Pill For Loneliness ticks every box for what makes a successful City And Colour album, all while moving towards a more open-ended sound than ever before.
It’s not difficult to see where that could rub some people the wrong way though, and even if the song lengths are generally shorter this time than with If I Should Go Before You, it’s not like A Pill For Loneliness is all that tight on an album. The enormous mixes feel so cavernous across every track, as liquid guitars are draped across them while being doused in reverb to accentuate the size that’s looking to be achieved. To be fair though, it’s not like this is a problem most of the time, especially when there’s so much room for these tracks to breathe naturally in a way that has an elemental quality that’s always been great about Green’s work, but especially on a track like Me And The Moonlight which doesn’t even hit the three-minute mark, it’s not like the swell can grow as far as it should. Coupled with how slow this album can be, there’s definitely the argument that it doesn’t climax as satisfyingly as other albums in this vein do, but A Pill For Loneliness also has more to offer beyond that, especially in how excellently certain constructional beats manage to hit. The gorgeous sway of Living With Lightning and Astronaut has a potency that emerges with the absolute perfect amount of restraint, while the ghostly cushion of Mountain Of Madness feels like the ideal backdrop for its slithering, simmering guitars and steady bass. And of course, among all of this stands Green himself, the crystalline vocal talent that’s always been the standout presence of everything he’s been involved with, and with the heavy focus on expansiveness and smoulder here, the vulnerability in his performance feels all the more palpable and engaging. On a constructional level, it feels as though every piece of A Pill For Happiness has been meticulously crafted to eke out as much quivering emotional mass as possible, and it regularly connects for a listen that, even on just a surface level, has a stunning amount of beauty and grace.
That seems to be where the onus lies on this album’s success too, given that the writing does decide to seemingly take a backseat in favour of the expansive, rustic tableaux offered elsewhere. That’s not to say it’s bad of devoid of thematic richness, but there’s a simplicity here that’s not always the most realised conceptually. Loneliness as a central theme is touched on in numerous ways, whether that’s a factor of distance on Astronaut, mental isolation on Imagination or disenfranchisement with the state of the world on Song Of Unrest, and while these definitely aren’t bad, there’s not much in the way of more resonant detail that could make them hit harder. The means for that are there, with the incredible power and chilliness that can be conveyed in Green’s vocals, and the sheer might and majesty that comes from rugged, natural imagery on Mountain Of Madness and The War Years, but it’s a shame it’s not taken just a bit further. What’s here is certainly good and never distracts from the magnitude of the sound that’s been crafted, but it’s held back from being something great a frequency that can be somewhat frustrating.
But even when that’s the case, and even when the lack of greatness is a factor not solely related to the writing, there’s still a lot to like about A Pill For Loneliness. Maybe it’s just a case of how well the composition hits and the sense of grandeur that comes despite its overall sparseness, but something about this album just hits in a way that constantly delivers and unravels more with each listen. It’s not Green’s best effort by any means, but it’s a highlighting factor for how lucrative this side of his indie-folk sound can be, with everything taken to such enormous heights and allowing the natural emotionality and size to take the driving seat. There’s not been a lot of albums like this this year, and while to some degree it’s easy to see why, A Pill For Loneliness does enough on its own to make up for that, and that’s a remarkably commendable achievement indeed.
For fans of: Manchester Orchestra, Dustin Kensrue, Kevin Devine
Words by Luke Nuttall
‘A Pill For Loneliness’ by City And Colour is out now on Dine Alone Records.