Apathy is defined as a lack of interest, enthusiasm or concern. Back in the nineties such feelings of such disconnect were actively cultivated as a way to cope with the madness of the world. Yet in the modern, hyper-connected new century we are constantly bombarded with an expectation that we actually care about everything. Sometimes that in itself takes its toll. On her new album Aoife O’Donovan wonders what it might be like to live in an ‘Age of Apathy’ where life and love are simple and free from the lingering malaise.
The album was recorded in Florida during the pandemic, produced remotely by Joe Henry and conjuring an atmosphere, a tone, a feeling like a hazy, soft seductive warm breeze that both intoxicates and unsettles your skin.
Musically the obvious influences are Joni Mitchell and Laura Nyro, elegant and spare – her skilful songwriting with its subtle, poetic lyricism are clear from the beginning on songs Sister Starling and B61.
Phoenix is the song which really spoke to me personally, reminding us all to ‘take a little more time’ and be ready to rise from the ashes of whatever we used to be. The references to fevers, earthquakes and all feel fitting in such plague times.
Age of Apathy and Elevators are the centre heart of the record – where she hopes to combat disconnect and brokenness with love, music, escape. On the song Galahad she sings ‘I’m alive, I’m alive, I’m alive’ like she’s just waking up to herself again, letting the old brag of her heart sing free.
Lucky Star, despite its title, is a more unsettling experience lyrically and musically than the rest of the album, dreaming of having enough money to escape the world. That moment lead us to the question What Do You Want From Yourself? where she contemplates her midlife, looking forward to being an old woman and thinking about how she might get there. The conclusion: I want to be what I wanted to be in 1993. Knowing yourself is easy enough, having the courage to love the one you’re with and keep going is the challenge she sets herself.
Collaboration has been central to O’Donovan’s musical career and the guests on this album are all brilliant. Allison Russell has had a fantastic year and offers her support on the hauntingly beautiful Prodigal Daughter, while another Grammy nominee Madison Cunningham helps finish the album with Passengers, an optimistic ode to life’s journey. O’Donovan also has plans to begin writing again with Sarah Jarosz and Sara Watkins on a new I’m With Her project and I can’t wait to hear the results.
Until then we have the wonders of Age of Apathy to enjoy. Start your musical new year here and rise from the ashes with a steady, hopeful gaze to the future. Her message: hold on.
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