'Golden State' Album Review: Josh Radnor and Ben Lee graduate to a richer, darker style of music
Radnor & Lee is the duo, Josh Radnor and Ben Lee, and they're back with their sophomore album 'Golden State'.
Initially slated for a May 8 release, the album's release has been indefinitely postponed due to the ongoing coronavirus pandemic. And that's a real shame because Radnor & Lee have put together something truly special on this record.
Beginning with their 2017 single 'Be Like the Being', a hopeful track built around the idea of being at peace with oneself, Radnor & Lee established themselves as an upcoming folk duo to watch out for. Radnor, best known for his role as Ted Mosby on 'How I Met Your Mother' and Lee, known for being the lead singer of nos-defunct band Noise Addict met over a decade ago and spent a long time as friends before finally recognizing it was time to take the next step and start a band. Their debut self-titled album was filled with songs built around setting oneself free, and this was beautifully represented in the simplicity of the two artistes voices set against nothing more than their acoustic guitars and an organ.
But their latest release, 'Golden State', sees the two delve into a darker side of the human mind, taking us from the spiritual journey of traveling inward to a more meditative space of confronting what you find when you embark on such an expedition, marking a shift from their lighthearted earlier work to something that is far more mature, both lyrically and musically.
For Radnor & Lee, this new chapter in their career is a graduation from a "side project by two guys who like to do a lot of things." But the tale of how they got to this point is something that is both magical and strange.
On the San Paulo stop of their first sold-out tour of Brazil, after soundcheck, the duo was invited to partake in a home-cooked meal of traditional Brazilian Feijoada, a celebratory meal that is meant to be leisurely enjoyed on the weekend in the company of extended family, cooked by one of the crew members' mothers. And while this dish is known to have eclectic lore around its origins, one undisputable fact is that the Feijoada that was served to Radnor & Lee was, in fact, laced with several micrograms of LSD.
What followed was an overflowing of inspiration that brought out ideas Radnor & Lee had left sitting on the back burner for far too long. To say the duo went on an enlightening trip would be slightly off since what was happening would be more accurately likened to the experience of freeing oneself that the two sang about on 'Be Like the Being'. And from this space of freedom bloomed the desire for adventure and a solidifying of friendship and a simple reminder that fun, as a guiding principle, was enough.
But in addition to an experience that reaffirmed their own words, there was a movement beyond language as the duo that initially prized lyrics as their superpower were suddenly faced with large crowds of non-English speaking humans, bobbing and swaying to their songs. The understanding that something other than wordplay was at work washed over them, eventually transforming their own approach to writing. What poured out from the tip of their pens was something of a different quality, something that was richer, darker and wilder.
The first single of the album 'Outside In', sees Radnor & Lee mull over how we view others and ourselves through this external lens. The song is wonderfully introspective and doubles as a commentary on how we do ourselves a disservice by accepting society's version of who we are instead of living our own truth. Speaking about the track Lee has said, "I can’t picture any of these songs written by people in their 20s...They’re the product of hard-learned lessons." These life lessons led the duo to the realization that they no longer wanted to live "from the outside in."
A song that encapsulates what Lee says is 'The Thing About Grief', a simple yet profound track that muses about the seemingly never-ending hold grief can have on a person but sees the duo accept the nature of grief and allow it to spill out onto the paper as lyrics as they patiently await a release from the pain. And this combination of simplicity and wisdom is reflected throughout the album.
'Golden State' is thus a collection of eleven tracks born out of a lifechanging experience, and built on a lifelong friendship. These songs travel from joyful to sad, vindictive to victorious, and explore everything in between along the way. And while listeners might find themselves pleasantly surprised by what they hear on this album, no one is quite as taken aback by what this album turned out to be than Radnor & Lee themselves.
To that end, 'Golden State' is not just a good folk album. It also serves as a reminder that nothing is set in stone, and that sometimes, a friendship can take you on a wild cross-country LSD-fuelled trip that leads you to rediscover the magic that exists within music and life.
Pre-order 'Golden State' HERE.