|Album Review: Rachel Baiman chronicles turmoil, strength, and rebirth in sophomore LP, 'Cycles'|
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The past two years on this earth and in the United States specifically have been an emotional rollercoaster, with true successes and clear failures, utter destruction and hopeful renewal. Chicago-native singer-songwriter Rachel Baiman writes about the human condition–specifically experiences of women –throughout these years so affectingly in her sophomore LP Cycles that we simply couldn’t sleep on this one.
“Growth, creation, destruction, renewal, rebirth – that’s what this record means to me,” says Baiman. Each track on the album could be the stories and perspectives of an entire nation, multiple women, or just one person— a fact that cements the hardships, joys, and complications which we share among us. The tracks hear Baiman croon about coming-of-age romance, fleeting moments, and vulturous bankmen feeding on a town’s heart and soul bars that now stand foreclosed. The title track, perhaps the most emotionally raw, encompasses the theme of turmoil to rebirth found throughout the album in a story of finding strength after a miscarriage. From a grandmother realizing her fragility to grappling with the realities of rampant racism, all ten tracks are brazen and unmitigated, sensitive yet forceful; charted accounts of the cycles we go through.
Baiman moved to Nashville at 18 and spent a decade as a musician playing multiple parts ranging from session musician to live side woman for Kacey Musgraves to bandmate and producer. Recorded in Australia, Baiman lists the Melbourne grunge rock scene as an inspiration for Cycles. There's no doubt the introspective nature of the album's lyrics alongside the frequent electric guitar rhythms and rock-leaning instrumentals pull from the genre. That being said, her folk, Americana, and bluegrass roots shine through haunting baselines, sighing strings, and stand-alone acoustic guitar.
The addictive melodies found on tracks like “Young Love'' and “Ships in the Night" are those that find you throughout the day and trigger a need for a repeat. However, it’s the songwriting that is Baiman’s strongest lure. Weaving political storylines is arguably essential if you’re framing an album around the events of recent years in America. Speaking about the track, Baiman writes that “Wyoming Wildflowers” draws inspiration from the terrorist attack and white supremacist rally in Charlottesville in 2017, singing lyrics: “good old boys they shout and scream about what the colours on this earth mean/white is the colour they’re so proud of, but white ain’t a colour just the absence of.” In her cover of Slaid Cleaves and Rod Picott’s “Rust Belt Fields,” Baiman’s sings a narrative of the overlooked and overworked and the continuing closing of homes next door.
And yet, the heavy themes on Cycles make way for the most rewarding one – hope. The final track “The Distance” is encouragement to continue, to rebuild, to rise from the destruction, as Baiman sings: “there’s no going back so we’re just going.”