You follow someone long enough on Twitter, you get an inside(ish) perspective on what they do with their time. In the case of musicians, it’s also a peek into their headspace while making an album. That can mean they’re drinking more coffee, living a healthier lifestyle, listening to something different, or even having a mental breakdown. Doing a longtime follow for indie singer-songwriter Allison Weiss means I’ve noticed that she is driving like, all the time. Granted, most artists at Weiss’ level are going to spend a healthy portion of a year crisscrossing states, regions, and time zones in the van, but she’s always at work somehow, somewhere. Be it a quick jaunt of supporting dates, an extended tour, or relocating from New York to Los Angeles following 2013’s excellent Say What You Mean, you feel every mile alongside her. She even has her own Spotify On the Road playlist.
All this is to say that of course Weiss made, well, first of all a great album, but also one of the year’s best driving albums. This is by design: lead single “Golden Coast” is about going out west to clear your head and get away from a negative space, and “Motorbike” is literally the sound of someone relieving tension by driving around. But more than touchstones, New Love is a killer road album because the whole record has a sense of forward motion; even a slower, middle cut like “Out of This Alive” cruises on clean guitar arpeggios, nimble bass, and light drumming with the inherent momentum that only comes after you’ve logged an hour into this highway trip already. It’s even possible to see the album’s arc as a drive: “The Sound” is a slow, ever building number that mirrors the rising anticipation in starting a long trip and leaving your familiar streets, while the rollicking “Who We Are” contains the excitement of hitting the open road. From there, it’s all systems go in the first half through “Good Way”, a brief, mid-drive “there’s nothing out here” zone out on “Out of This Alive” and “Over You”, followed by the closing-in rally of “Motorbike” and the title track, and the tired-eyed revelation and comfort of arriving on “The Same”.
And despite a saying about a long drive with nothing to think about, Weiss is doing plenty of thinking and reflecting during New Love. Like Say What You Mean and last year’s Remember When, the album is in the wake of a break-up, but frames the whole experience in the rear view; it’s something you only think about alone and late at night instead of being all-consuming. You can sketch an outline for the album’s thoughts on the break-up, too: after realizing she can’t stop thinking about hurt on “The Sound”, Weiss plays through an optimistic reunion for “Who We Are” before spending the album’s first half convincing herself to walk away for real (this section includes the aforementioned “Golden Coast” and “Back To Me”, an awesome song rendered heartbreaking in context), finally culminating in the crash of “Good Way”. New Love‘s back half finds her having to live with the decision, including falling to pieces over seeing an ex on social media, and trying desperately to move on from them. Weiss sums it up best in the chorus from the title track: “There’s no love like new love/You’re moving on and all I want is you, love”.
Whereas Say What You Mean‘s closer “I’ll Be Okay” hinted at some nebulous Resolution someday, New Love‘s final song “The Same” leads with “Is anybody never really over anyone?” and concludes that “we’ve all got feelings that we can’t explain/we’re all a little bit the same”. It’s the complicated emotion of moving on in some way, but maybe not in the big way you were expecting, and that’s okay.
But, New Love isn’t all high-minded ideas on four wheels and hearts in motion, it’s also a blast to listen to. The big story here is that Weiss has traded a scrappy, borderline pop-punk guitar rock for polished synth pop (there’s a really easy 1989 comparison I’m not going to make here), but the move is less dramatic than you’d think. Weiss has more prominent (and impressive) synths here, and the guitar is de-emphasized, but Heartthrob it ain’t. Even after opening with a wave of synths, “Golden Coast” still utilizes guitars in the same, single picked line way she used them previously, and “Back to Me” features reverb guitar riffs straight out of The War on Drugs playbook and a great synthed up bridge to boot. The album uses plenty of keyboards, but they get used in the context of a pop rock writer; anyone whose listened to Weiss so far won’t be surprised by these songs.
I’ve written this about Weiss enough that I’m running out of ways to say it, but she’s still one of the most underrated songwriters working today. The songcraft is still fantastic, and this album finds her adding new details, like the vocal outlines on the title’s song second verse, and coloring outside the lines somewhat. For example, the dynamics on “Good Way”–going from acoustic strumming to thick, fuzzed out guitars a mile wide–are more dramatic than she’s tried previously. And her knack for hooks and melody remains untarnished despite fairly rapid output. I called Remember When a workshop, and it pays off in Weiss sounding utterly confident when she goes big here.
If you wanted to hold something against New Love, it’s that it doesn’t have as many quick thrills as Say What You Mean, but again, that’s likely by design. SWYM was made to fire on all cylinders; NL is a sleeker, and possibly more fulfilling product, it just takes a few more spins to appreciate. The album’s outlined in great songs between “Who We Are” and “New Love”, and the rising section between “Golden Coast” through “Good Way” is top-notch. It compares to, and in my opinion, outdoes 1989 as a concept driven pop record that breaks down a relationship. The album ends without a resolution, leaving the road before us open. Good thing Weiss gave us something great to listen to on the way.