Big Red Machine

How Long Do You Think It's Gonna Last?

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How Long Do You Think It's Gonna Last? Review

by Marcy Donelson

Arriving three years after the project's full-length debut, How Long Do You Think It's Gonna Last? takes the form of a star-studded, over-hour-long follow-up by Big Red Machine, a collaboration between Bon Iver's Justin Vernon and the National's Aaron Dessner. More collaborative and less experimental than its predecessor, it adheres to a dreamy, wistful, midtempo universe, one where guest vocalists float in and out of duets with and takeovers for Vernon as various themes relating to the lifecycle languidly unfold. A consistently subdued, reflective affair with minimal chord movement and delicate production touches, its selection of "Latter Days" as the opener -- a song nostalgic for innocence -- is fitting. A duet with Anaïs Mitchell, it also establishes the record's spartan approach to arranging, with electric piano, simple drums, and evaporative electronic atmosphere. Mitchell soon turns up again, this time alongside Fleet Foxes on the modestly jauntier "Phoenix." Also making more than one appearance here is none other than Taylor Swift, on the heels of her own folklore and Evermore, which were co-produced by Dessner. She takes the lead on the compassionate "Renegade" after providing harmony vocals on "Birch," a soaring highlight for Vernon. Along with the improvisatory "Easy to Sabotage" (featuring Naeem), among the album's more animated entries is "Mimi," which layers noodly guitar and vocal rounds by Vernon and guest singer Ilsey (Ilsey Juber) over an odd time signature that might best be described as 5/8. That song was co-written by Vernon, Dessner, and Ilsey and features drums by Big Thief's James Krivchenia. Among other contributors are Sharon Van Etten, Lisa Hannigan, and My Brightest Diamond's Shara Nova, who join forces as backing vocalists on a gospel-informed tribute to Scott Hutchison ("Hutch"), and Ben Howard and This Is the Kit, who appear together on "June's a River." Elsewhere, "Brycie" -- dedicated to Aaron Dessner's brother and National bandmate, Bryce -- is one of three tracks to feature Aaron on lead vocals for the first time in his career. After an hour, the album is bookended with another Anaïs Mitchell appearance, the nostalgic "New Auburn." While How Long Do You Think It's Gonna Last?'s mellow poignancy is likely to stick more than any of its songs; its pathos is genuine and immersive.

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