The Lied To’s is a duo comprising Doug Kwartler and Susan Levine. The two met at a folk festival in 2009 and, after reconnecting in 2013, began playing shows together. On their previous albums, Kwartler and Levine sang, as many musicians do, about the difficulties in relationships. This is particularly true of The Lesser of Two Evils (2018), which was written as a response to navigating relationships after a divorce. Their new album The Worst Kind of New has a more introspective feel, which is understandable because both Kwartler and Levine lost a parent while making this album.
The sound of the album is similar to the band’s previous efforts, with minimalist melodies that bring a focus to the vocals. However, the band does expand somewhat on this album with strings, synthesizers, and organs. Of the album, Kwartler said, “I wanted to slightly break away from the more traditional ‘Americana’ sounds. And also blend in an impressionistic landscape that reflects the stories in the album and the questions they ask, which are often ambiguous and mysterious.”
While the album is pretty firmly in the Americana category, there is some range to these songs. “Time” and “Clay Pigeons” are both very hushed melodies with minimalist instrumentation. Levine provides the lead vocals in “Time” and her voice is barely more than a whisper, but that’s part of what makes the song so powerful. It forces you to pay attention not only to the vocal quality, which is similar to Elizabeth Cook, but also to the lyrics. “Clay Pigeons” (written by Blaze Foley) is a pretty duet with excellent harmonies. The lyrics tell the introspective story of someone that seems to be on a voyage of self-seeking, which is a recurring theme on the album.
At the other end of the spectrum is “It’s Not Who You Love”. This is a mid-tempo song that provides healthy doses of pedal steel and mandolin. It’s definitely enough to get you moving. On top of that, the vocals will have you looking for a partner to try to match the harmonies in the song. “Two Days” is another song that moves away from the hushed tones of other songs. This one is an alt-country song propelled by a beat that will get you moving. It’s easy to imagine people looking for a dance partner when this song is played live.
“Brokedown Jamboree” is probably the best example of the range of this band. This one has a swinging jazzy melody and a shuffle beneath that sounds influenced by Dixieland. It also features some horns that only add to the jazzy feel.
You can tell that a lot of emotion went into this album. It comes through in the vivid stories contained in these songs. Whether it’s a slice-of-life song about a lazy Sunday morning (“Missing You”) or a melancholy song like “Midnight Kiss”, this band places you right into the stories being told. In addition, they write lyrics that are easy to sing and are bound to make you feel something.