2 x Vinyl LP, Vinyl LP, Compact Disc (CD)
It has been just two and a half years since Glenn Donaldson released Anxiety Art, his first album as the Reds, Pinks & Purples (henceforth abbreviated RP&Ps). Since then, he has put out two more full-lengths under the name (2020’s You Might Be Happy Someday and 2021’s Uncommon Weather), an archival collection of meandering lo-fi tracks as The Ivytree, and albums by Vacant Gardens, Painted Shrines, and Horrid Red—all collaborations with like-minded songwriters. And that may not cover all of Donaldson’s output. Who knows? The guy is uncommonly prolific.
He’s also remarkably consistent, at least within the RP&Ps universe. The project’s downcast pop songs are written and recorded entirely in Donaldson’s San Francisco home. Summer at Land’s End is his fourth RP&Ps album in less than three years, and, not surprisingly, it is every bit as lovely as its predecessors.
It’s a master class in doing more with less. Invariably, RP&Ps songs are built from Donaldson’s winsome vocal melodies, his sigh of a singing voice, restrained rhythm sections, gently played guitars (of the jangling electric and/or strummed acoustic variety) and, often, the soft glow of a keyboard or synth. In less capable hands, this is a mix that might grow tiresome after a while, but Donaldson uses the limits of the sound to his advantage by weaving an almost narcotic instrumental foundation that complements and enhances his gifts as a tunesmith and a storyteller. As a result, when he yawns his way through these lines in “Pour the Light In,” the effect is not devastating, but nostalgic and comforting: “Without love, the rest is sorrow/ ‘Til death will come in/ The grave’s a veil over paradise/ I’ve laid too long in what dreams were buried/ And did not grow here.”
Donaldson has a knack for capturing universal feelings in interesting ways. “The air got colder in the room when you let me go,” he sings in “Let’s Pretend We’re Not in Love,” a pitch-perfect slice of melancholy indie pop. Later, in one of the album’s best choruses, he describes disillusionment as “feeling upside down in an empty room,” which feels strangely accurate. He also takes two opportunities here to play with the RP&Ps form a bit, producing a seven-minute-long lazy river of guitar chimes and tendrils on the title track and a pretty instrumental march embossed with a keyboard part that’s reedy, wheezing and wonderful (“Dahlias and Rain”). These are enjoyable jaunts, but by standing out, they highlight the consistency and the quality of the RP&Ps’s growing catalog. Glenn Donaldson is a brilliant songwriter on an incredible hot streak. Here’s hoping he doesn’t cool off anytime soon.