Maggie Carson matures and screams on “The Dark Was Aglow”

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We all have to grow up someday, and Maggie Carson’s maturation on The darkness was glowing is something to see. Carson cut his teeth with Brooklyn folk band Spirit Family Reunion, and his debut solo album retains his rambling energy and zest for life. However, Carson and his band alone create minimalist soundscapes that make every note and every symbol count. If you could channel bluegrass through a punk rock filter – but avoid making it sound like punk – The darkness was glowing is where you would land.

While Carson uses this space to ruminate on the paths that have brought her here, the album is, at heart, a New York album. Stories of crazy nights, of feeling lost in a crowd, of taking in the spectacular views of this city – Carson may play a mean banjo, but you can’t get the city out of the city kid. Inspired by recording The darkness was glowing in Rockaway Beach, perhaps, Carson uses his banjo as if it were a lead guitar: alternately carrying the groove and bringing his chops to the fore as the band pushes the song forward. It’s a distinctive sound, reminiscent of the heavy synths and spare Williamsburg drums of the past decade, but humanized with a timeless Appalachian sound.

Carson’s voice is as much an instrument as anything else on the album. The darkness was glowing begins with “Your Ghost”, a gently heartbreaking song about missing those who are gone. Carson’s vocals — frank, direct, just a little raspy — make the song feel lived-in and familiar, even if the sound is distinct and modern. This approach is accelerated in “What You Want”, which surely channels a Ramone or two. Using the musical vocabulary of millennials everywhere this side of I-95, Carson invokes climate change and political oppression to bring urgency to a universal truth – you can’t always get what you want, and he there are plenty of people out there who actively won’t allow you as a means to their own ends.

It’s not all bad news, however. The darkness was glowing embrace the wonder in the mystery of the human experience. Life would not be complete if there were no troubled times, nor livable without beauty. The album ends with “Who Put a Name to All This?”, imbued with a sense of admiration for New York’s history, confusing its thoughtless sprawl with the inevitability of natural forces. Humans box create beauty, even in the midst of all the chaos we generate.

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