The Latest Rights, the second full-length from the Strugglers — songwriter B.R. Bickford and a loose association of musicians — splendidly blends a lo-fi approach with pop melodies and a dash of nouveau-folk sensibility and electric-guitar riffing. Though the combination sounds like it would be a deadly mess, the Strugglers are able to give form to Bickford’s many influences and imbue The Latest Rights with a distinct sound unified by the songwriting talent behind it.
From the opening lines of “Morningside Heights,” it’s apparent that Bickford possesses considerable songwriting skills. Every note is crisp and precise, and when Bickford introduces his vocals, it stays in perfect concert with the instrumental line. Bickford’s voice is an imperfect instrument, prone to cracking under stress but perfect for the melodies and lyrics he writes.
The Latest Rights slides gracefully from one song to the next, making the album a continuous thought rather than defined collection of songs. There are accents placed throughout — a unexpected trumpet on “Redeployment” or the Jackson Browne piano line on “Jonathan” — but Bickford skillfully moves from stripped-down folk to slightly skewed pop, using his voice as the constant in each composition.
Though Bickford’s songs come from disparate musical influences, he unites them thematically so that nothing on The Latest Rights feels showy or out of place. Bickford and his group have created thirty-nine minutes of spare, beautiful music, which is no small thing.