Judd and Maggie: Subjects
His lyrics are still weathered beyond his years; her voice is still angelic enough to stop traffic. His guitar still finds memorable melodies in innocuous lines; her harmonies still elevate otherwise textbook midtempo indie-pop. About the only thing Frederick brother-and-sister duo Judd and Maggie Bolger change for their major-label debut is adding a plush backdrop to material that never sounded like it needed it. But, holy Neutral Milk Hotel, do Judd and Maggie flower when blanketed in orchestral arrangements, string sections, and especially a full-drum kit.
Beck drummer Joey Waronker doubles down on Subjects, sitting behind the kit and the production board, bringing the same sympathetic ear and mind he lent to such out-of-fashion artists as Lisa Germano and the Incredible Moses Leroy. Judd and Maggie are basically doing Topanga Canyon 1970s soft-rock, of interest to today’s ears only when reissued 25 years later with an enigmatic backstory that ends in drugs and death (see: Judee Sill). Maggie wields a soprano individual enough to fit in squarely with the new weirdness, but sounds more interested in following Emmylou Harris than Joanna Newsom. And while Judd’s songwriting is as light and airy as a nonfat marshmallow, his strength is a bittersweet romantic streak that, like Lindsey Buckingham’s, leans well into the bitter. Together they knit pretty melodies about feeling like shit.
A handful of these songs appeared on the 2003 Concentrate debut, made-over now into sweeping throat-grabbers. Judd’s haggard voice originally handled “One Year Past 20,” but his sister’s tender reading of his self-cutting heartbreak—“Cuz I’m already one year past 20 with two broken hearts/ maybe one you could restart”—feel like slices with a dull blade. A horn section infuses Judd’s last-call resignation “Big Lights” into a gimlet-eyed Closing Time sigh: “In a city full of big lights that light up nothing at all at all/ It’s so hard to love you and it’s easy to leave.” Best of all is “Used to Love,” a jaunty, just-under-three-minute toast to feeling like a heel—and being quite OK with that. “I used to paint pictures/ Now I only paint walls,” Judd’s narrator admits over a skipping acoustic guitar strum, the sort of pity party you’d kick a friend for saying. But, in this ode to hoping to be emotionally available one day, it arrives with such self-deprecation that it feels downright giddy—so much so that when Judd sings “I hope I’m not so far off/ I only wanna get used to love,” you’re laughing at being romantically unfit right along with him.