With two decades of songwriting under his belt, both for prior indie rock bands (Twothirtyeight, Discover America) and for sporadic solo releases, Chris Staples seems to have settled as comfortably as one can into the role of introspective solo singer/songwriter with Golden Age. The title references the notion of an idealized past. In Staples' case, it would be a period before the diagnosis of an autoimmune disease, a bike accident that left him needing hip surgery, and the end of a long-term romantic relationship. He challenges the tendency to dwell on the past, however, noting at one point on the record, "Don't be afraid of who I used to be/I hate him too, he wasn't me." The intimate set of tunes has him delivering restrained vocals over a variety of arrangements that are never simply acoustic guitar but often feel like they are. The heavy-hearted "Always on My Mind" features piano, bass, and light acoustic guitar while Staples reminisces about someone no longer in his life ("Funny how some little thing can just take you back/Some perfume or a pop song, a Penguin paperback"). Confessional with a twist, "Diary" has the singer at a near whisper as he lists events and thoughts read from someone else's diary. The storyteller eventually reveals his own guarded thoughts. The bouncier title track has a full band but still subtle arrangement as he questions if the good old days were really so perfect. Other lighter offerings include "Hepburn in Summertime," a quasi bal-musette with accordion and bongos, and the playful "Dog Blowing a Clarinet." Golden Age cuts through pretense with Staples' soft-spoken candor as well as its live-demo recording sound, with results that are both refreshing and charming.
AllMusic Review by Marcy Donelson