For a writer of any kind, not wanting to — or not being able to — put pen to paper is a pretty horrifying phase to enter. It can start for a variety of reasons, but it can only end by sitting down and finding a way into the work. Often, it means letting go of the internal and external pressures to write something “good,” in order to just write something. That seems to have been the case with singer/songwriter John Moreland.
Over the past handful of years, Moreland found his footing in Americana circles. But being hailed and held up as a masterful truth-teller, spending more time on the road than off, and other elements of that success took their toll, pushing Moreland into a writer’s block, of sorts. Thankfully, he broke through it and brought his best work yet along with him.
Dubbed LP5, the album is a gloriously fulsome piece of art, with textures and soundscapes we hadn’t previously associated with the Tulsa artist. The opening cut, “Harder Dreams,” is punctuated by a sonic structure that wouldn’t be out of place on an album from the National as it details the reaching for something higher in life, rather than simply settling for the beliefs passed down through churches, culture, and consumerism for whom the cruelty is the point.
Moreland shoves that idea aside, time and again, on LP5, preferring instead to fill himself and his songs with messages of mindfulness and kindness, starting with himself. With a pep in its step that belies its pointedness, “Terrestrial” takes on religion, in particular, and how it leverages sin into shame. In one verse, Moreland offers, “Sing hallelujah. I was lost, but now I’m found. Come on in, we’ll treat you like kin, long as you don’t make a scene or a sound,” before flipping the coin further in, “Sing hallelujah. I was found, but now I’m lost. I heard the call and I bet it all, never even added the cost.” Over a mesmerizing percussive backdrop, “I Always Let You Burn Me to the Ground” offers a similarly stunning rebuke of the things we’re taught that cause us to internalize all that shame and self-doubt.
Muted toms and crisp snares, fuzzy electrics and bright acoustics, programmed loops and rough-hewn vocals… in the environment created by Moreland’s exquisite songwriting, all the elements co-exist with just enough tension to keep things captivating. Whatever it was that Moreland had to endure to emerge with LP5, it might not have seemed worth it, at the time, but it certainly seems so, in hindsight.