Driving Through the Aftermath

Criticism, Allred, 707 // Dec. 5, 2021 // By Fran Attié

David Allred’s new home

“Driving Through the Aftermath of a Storm on a Clear Day“ is aptly titled. It’s an experience in allowing yourself to be lost after the world has crumbled around you.
David Allred's new album is a return to the more expansive side of his output, which had been pushed aside in his last record “Smells Like Everyone is Watching“, when Allred exchanged the piano for the guitar. As the main melodic voice in “Driving“, the piano guides his compositions, but because he plays like a singer, the piano, too, sings, and Allred’s voice comes in as accompaniment.
In albums like “The Transition“, or “The Cell“, this style lent itself to melancholy compositions. Imbued in those records was the sense of a struggle - “Driving“ feels more like a letting go. “New Gravity,” for example, is a song that pulls you forward. Strings reminiscent of Agnes Obel open in a curious tone, and the pull in the song is linked with curiosity, the desire to explore. Naturally, there’s a lot of open space created within the music, perhaps because there’s a lot of room to cover in the landscapes Allred is driving through, and this makes the songs feel slow, though not necessarily relaxing. Perhaps because, on a clear day, after the storm, the humidity lingers in the air, and with it, the destruction of moments past. Allred has a strong but subversive feel for ambient music, and he’ll never put you truly at ease. It’s like walking into a spa where you’re treating your traumas.
Overall, the melancholy of albums past is still there, but it no longer rings nostalgic. In that sense, “Driving“ is a lighter album, a conciliatory close with distress. “The Middle of Driving Onwards” is a meditation on driving on a day that is bright but not warm, when there is light, but it’s not quite yellow—a shade of light-blue that is almost grey and becomes almost white. Throughout the album, this struggle is taut—a heaviness of context—but, looked at from the right side, becomes okay to bear. After all, at the end of the day, it’s light outside. In its use of voices and layering, the album showcases a more mature Allred. Whereas previously he had been excited to explore atonality—in a very delicate way, I should say—now, he allows more congruence in tune.

In “The Cell“, singing above the piano, Allred followed the melody without imposing anything on the piano. Doing so meant that some of the vocals could end up out of tune. The piano and the human voice, after all, have very different chromatic nuances. Then, when he took up the guitar for “Smells Like Everyone is Watching“, Allred’s songwriting changed: His voice took the melodic forefront, the guitar simply gave it a platform to shine, and the music became more narrative (his lyrics—a carefully sentimental brand of high-brow Nick Drake Americana—shone larger than before). There was no more room for atonality, however; once an indelible quality in his music, Allred sought for newer pastures. He found those in the American Northwest. And the peace that may have slipped into his life over there, began echoing in his music. The culmination of which is “Driving Through the Aftermath of a Storm on a Clear Day“, where Allred seems calmer, more accepting, more relaxed. Back on the piano, his voice takes a step back, and his compositions, more nuanced in their layering, give birth to a tighter album, where no instrument, no sound, no voice, pulls beyond their share. Not quite minimalist, but certainly imbued in succinctness, “Driving“ also showcases Allred’s more experimental side. “Dat Hibiscus,” is a song that echoes the mindful and spatial explorations of bands like Blackwater in their single “Woodstock.” The difference here lies in Allred’s sense of direction. Though in driving one may be lost, one must still drive forward.  

In the final song, “Daylight,” there is the characteristic Allred fade into goodbye. What feels like brass, and rings metallic, announces, in effect, the end, posing, however, as new continuum. It’s a hopeful ending to a hopeful record, where an acceptance of struggle echoes as faith for a better way forward.