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Prolific Minneapolis singer/guitarist Israel’s 16th LP since 1998 shouldn’t be confused with his near-identically-titled 15th from 2019, Social Media Anxiety Disorder. In addition to the dissimilar cover art, Israel employs a different set of backing players on each, with the exception of drummer David J. Russ. However, since the two LPs were recorded at around the same time, and touch on common themes, they can be viewed as “companion” albums. Thus, if you like one, there’s a high probability you’ll also enjoy the other. In his issue 85 review, Michael Toland called Social Media Israel’s “best album yet,” and that’s not hyperbole. But given that Social Distance was culled from the same inspirational wellspring, with much of it being written and recorded before Social Media came out, it feels every bit as gratifying as its predecessor. If there is one distinction, it’s that Social Distance dispenses with some of the previous album’s diverse, uncharacteristic stylistic progressions – as noted in his review, Toland heard psychedelia, synth-pop, experimental rock, and nods to The Faces, to go with Israel’s more familiar power-pop and roots rock – in favor of a more consistent, unwavering approach.
Bolstered by an adroit band of guitarist Rich Mattson (of Ol’ Yeller; he also recorded and mixed the LP), bassist Mike Lane, stickmen Russ and Chris Petrack, and keyboardist Al Oikari, the album trades off between glistening and airy, acoustic-shaded folk-pop (as on “Wit’s End,” “Trying for a Long Time,” and the closing “Vision in My Dreams”), and more rugged, R&B-fueled rock (“Bewildered,” “Bustin’ Out,” and “Something for the Pain”). To top everything off, Israel adds his reassuring, amiable drawl, which brings to mind an amalgam of Bob Dylan, Tom Petty, and The Saints’ Chris Bailey. And while Social Distance was completed before the onset of our half-year-long, still-mushrooming COVID-19 crisis, its more recently-affixed title is still appropriate. Indeed, the burdensome “anxiety disorder” causes that Israel addresses throughout the album – his lack of motivation, diminished productivity, elusive happiness and success, and exhaustive self-doubt – are likely to feel even more severe and paralyzing in this virus-immersed, locked-down world. (danisraelmusic.com, danisrael.bandcamp.com)
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