It seems like Ray LaMontagne is experimenting on his fifth studio record. Not in the way that’s often described with such neutral designations as “maturing” or “emotional growth.” Rather, Supernova sounds like a foray into the exploratory sonic terrains created by those who simply can.
After four albums of rustic folksiness and unadulterated acoustica, LaMontagne traveled to Nashville to work with The Black Keys’ Dan Auerbach on the recording and production of Supernova. As such, the 10-track LP includes all of the feedback squalls (“She’s The One”), spacey synths (“Pick Up A Gun”) and delayed, distorted electric guitar riffs (“Julia”) that Auerbach has become known for indulging. These superlative techniques paired with a heavy emphasis on keyboards and bass, are disarming phenomena, and ones that take multiple listens for connoisseurs of LaMontagne’s back catalog to accept.
LaMontagne, whose husky voice is like aural crack for beard-loving female hipsters, transforms throughout Supernova. He sounds most like his late-2000s-era self on nostalgic tunes like the mid-tempo “Ojai” and album closer “Drive-in Movies.” And yet, the falsettos, hisses, barks and growls scattered through the album strangely work.
So although Supernova represents the idealistic (and exospheric) possibilities for LaMontagne after 10 years in the industry, what gets lost in the experimentation is the emotional connection previously forged through clear playing and exposed lyricism.