The Whistles & the Bells

Modern Plagues

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The sophomore studio LP from the Nashville-based singer/songwriter, Cadillac Sky mandolin player, and man behind country hits by the likes of Tim McGraw, Blake Shelton, and Jason Aldean, Modern Plagues sees Bryan Simpson assuming a more playful, acerbic, and pop-centric persona. Less overtly faith-based, but no less spiritual than the Whistles & the Bells' transformative 2015 debut, at times the 11-track set feels like the product of a more sanguine, Fun-loving Father John Misty. Like Josh Tillman, Simpson's lyrics are steeped in wry social commentary ("robots are gonna put us in the people zoo"), but his affable delivery and innate country charm render each aside largely devoid of snark. Alternately goofy and profound, standouts like "Good Drugs," "Zombie Heartz," "Small Town Criminals," and "Harry Potter," the latter three of which were co-written by Brendan Benson of the Raconteurs, operate at their own unique frequency. Modern Plagues is sometimes nervy to a fault, spilling over with invention at incredible speeds. That Simpson can keep so many disparate balls in the air (chamber pop, Americana, progressive folk, electro-soul, etc.) is impressive enough, but that he can make so much of that chaos compelling is the real trick.

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