Jason Isbell has the best backstory of any country musician on the make right now. The former guitarist for Athens’ sweethearts Drive-By Truckers split from the group, got sober, and found country-avant producer Dave Cobb. Together, they polished Isbell’s sound into the gleaming thing it was on 2013’s Southeastern — an album that left most of the country critical world awestruck with its uncanny, precise songwriting. The follow-up to a near universally acclaimed album is always a steep road, and sometimes artists stumble in their attempt to top themselves. But from the sound of “24 Frames,” Isbell is fearless.
The title refers to the 24 frames that pass before the camera each second during a film, and there is a cinematic quality to this song. It’s decidedly more indie rock than anything on Southeastern, and you can hear that his long-time band the 400 Unit is back. This first single evokes R.E.M. in more ways than one; the jangled guitars and Isbell’s phrasing sound like an homage to Michael Stipe and company at times, and the songwriter said his new album aims to capture” the way indie rock sounded when I was 15.” Influences aside, the writing here is all standard Isbell fare: incisive, brutal images that go beyond describing scene or self and depict the deepest core of the human experience. Consider the fraught imagery of his shifting view on the godhead: “You thought God was an architect/ Now you know he’s something like a pipe bomb/ Ready to blow.” Do I even need to explain to you that most people can’t write songs like this? Now you know. Listen to the new single below and look for Isbell’s new album this July.
Something More Than Free is out 7/17 via Isbell’s own Southeastern records. Pre-order it here.