An ode to entropy
Rachel Bachman releases her new album at Soul City
Singer-songwriter Rachel Bachman
Rachel Bachman wrote her first song, a syrupy nature ballad called “The Trees Were High,” when she was four. She comes from a family of quirky suburban hippies who love to sing. Her mom was a club singer in Detroit in the ‘70s. All these years later, Bachman is still writing songs. Her third album, I’m All I’ves, her most eclectic and personal recording to date, will be released this month with a live performance at Soul City Gastropub and Music House.
I’m All I’ves is a strange album title. The odd word sequence makes you feel like you’ve heard it wrong. But the strangeness was deliberate.
“I took all the words from my album and put them in alphabetical order,” Bachman said. “Then I took my favorite phrase from each of the songs, and I looked at each of the words near the phrases to see what other weird phrases I could come up with. There was a lot of alliteration. So the name had an interesting sound, and it plays on the idea that I write songs that are super self-involved. It’s kind of poking fun at myself.”
On I’m All I’ves Bachman doesn’t hold any punches, but she also doesn’t take herself too seriously. She paints a remarkably honest portrait of past and present lovers, boring relationships in crisis, her obsession with mundane details, neurosis, and a world she seems happy to inhabit even as it decays.
On the opening track she admits, “It’s a big year / I’m used to living with my fear / Now all I can see are days flying by / And all the makeup in the world couldn’t hide the bags under my eyes … Closing down the bar with my friends / Binging on pizza with my love / Watching us pretend here’s the life we’ve been dreaming of.”
Out of context the lyrics sound weighty, but she sings them with an exuberant and almost blissful irony. Bachman continues: “Now that I’m sorry for myself, I’ll pour you a cup of my first-world sadness … I am wasting all this feeling / I am wasting time.”
Bachman’s lo-fi record vacillates between sparse instrumentation and full-fledged folk rock hootenanny. Sonically, it’s reminiscent of Courtney Barnett’s Split Sea EP or one of Ani DiFranco’s neofolk records from the ‘90s. The ukulele is central here, but Bachman plays many instruments and often adds layers of vocal harmony. Several songs contain odd little outtakes with tape noises and speaking recorded after a take. Much of the album has a conversational quality—listening is similar to watching a show in someone’s living room, partly because Bachman recorded much of it herself at home.
“It started at Auggy Reed Studios,” she said. “I recorded a couple of live tracks, then Mike Gilliland gave me recording lessons and lent me his Mbox audio interface. I went home and recorded everything. Then we dumped it onto Mike’s computer, and he and Connor Robb mixed and mastered it and added some guitar tracks. I recorded the vocals and ukulele and Tom Stephens on bass. Then I recorded all the percussion with Ashlee Elmore: cajón, shaker, and tambourine. There’s no drums on the whole thing.”
Nicholas Foster adds a layer of off-kilter but interesting percussion to a few songs. Hector Ultreras delivers a Dylanesque harmonica solo, and Adrienne Gilley and Bachman’s sister Rebekah contribute backing vocals. Nearly every other sound on the album is made by Bachman, who created the intimate space many of these songs inhabit. This record helped her push past a season of creative drought.
“I wrote most of these songs from July to October of 2016 because I found this songwriters’ group online. They do these challenges called the 50/90 songwriting challenge, where you write fifty songs in ninety days. I wrote about twenty, more than I’d written in the last six years. It was just the idea of having to write a few songs a week. I had to write them.”
The process has created some of the songwriter’s most compelling material yet. Joining her cerebral, introspective lyrics with the lightness of ukulele chords and joyful crooning, I’m All I’ves is a step forward for Bachman. This album plays like a long exhalation of relief; even the most serious parts of life don’t have to be taken too seriously. On one of the album’s liveliest tracks, “A Word of Encouragement,” she delivers a strangely satisfying truth. Bachman sings these words over a chorus of her own melodramatic oohs and ahhs:
“A word of encouragement as you leave here / I want you to look around and realize that everything you see is going to end up in a landfill”
I’m All I’ves album release show
With guests Snowbug String Trio and Papa Foster’s Creole Trio
Jan. 27, 9 p.m., Soul City Gastropub and Music House
1621 E 11th St | $5