Final Rating: 8.2/10
Ouroboros is the word used for an ancient mythical depiction of a snake enveloping its own tail. It’s used to symbolize perpetuity, infinity and wholeness. “Ouroboros” is also appropriately used as the title for American Folk-Rocker Ray LaMontagne’s latest album. The album begins with the eerie and spacey sounding “Homecoming”. It’s a song that sounds birthed for Radiohead’s OK Computer as opposed to the opening song of a Ray LaMontagne album. As “Homecoming” flows into the distorted and raw, guitar driven lead single “Hey, No Pressure” it’s apparent that producer Jim James (My Morning Jacket) is not just a piece of this album, but is hugely involved in the studio work and production, contributing heavily to the overall feel of the record.
The psychedelic vibes are felt most strongly as the song “The Changing Man” begins. Driven by fuzzy guitar riffs and tempo changes, the song is a soaring transitional point, brought back down to Earth only by the familiar raspy vocals of Ray belting out “I am the changing man” multiple times, which are the only vocals on the song. It seamlessly transitions into “While It Still Beats” with the only true indication that it’s actually a new track coming as the lyrics are no longer “I am the changing man”. From there the song evolves away from its predecessor and feels as if it’s helping settle the album down. The soft ambient vocal harmonies create the feel that you are now in the smooth and gentle part of this psychedelic journey beautifully crafted by Ray and Jim, which also leads to the end of Part One of Ouroboros.
Part Two begins as gently and softly as Part One ended with the song “In My Own Way”. The soft electric riff and acoustic guitar strumming (reminiscent at times of the acoustic riff that drives Harvest Moon by Neil Young) being the core of the song. The familiar raw electric guitar from Part One returns to lift the song skyward at times, albeit briefly and gently. It never once feels out of place, but creates a feeling of normalcy once it fades and gives way by allowing the song to return to its soothing core elements. The ending gives birth to the next track “Another Day”.
The transition this time is more obvious as the music actually stops. A shaking, spacey sounding noise (present at times throughout the song) bursts into the silence before giving way to Ray’s soothing and raspy vocals. Backed by beautiful vocal harmonies from Jim James, the song always feels like it’s going somewhere before it finally transitions into the song “A Murmuration of Starlings”. Largely driven by a blues style guitar while the backing band provides a cushiony foundation of ambience and noise. The track serves merely as a transitional piece to the last song on the album “Wouldn’t It Make a Lovely Photograph”. Again the transition is almost unnoticeable from the previous song, continuing the theme of perpetuity, continuity and infinity. The lyrics of “you’re never going to hear this song on the radio” which are belted out aggressively by Ray LaMontagne, resonate quite strongly by this point of the album.
The album doesn’t really have a viable single besides “Hey, No Pressure” which was released as the lead single off the album. “You’re never going to hear this song on the radio” lyrics offered by Ray himself, can be attributed to nearly all the songs on this album. Ouroboros the extremely fitting and appropriate title, refers to continuity and wholeness. The exact intention and purpose of this psychedelic journey. It is not an album with stand-alone songs like we had on the previous album “Supernova”, which featured the huge hit single of the same name. There is no obvious “best song” to pull from the record, as all the songs contribute equally to the overall greatness of the album. This record was written and recorded with the intention to be listened to as one piece of music. Don’t expect to hear many more singles from the record. If you’re a fan of Ray, Jim James/My Morning Jacket, vinyl, or someone who prefers listening to albums rather than mixed song playlists, this album should be added to your collection.
The upcoming tour brings Ray LaMontagne and friends to the WayHome festival this July. It’s hard to imagine that this album won’t be performed front to back live on this tour. The impact and flow of the songs would be negatively impacted by playing only a few tracks or playing them out of order. If you’re making the trip up to Oro-Medonte this July, expect to see the album played in its entirety followed by some of his classic and most popular hits.