In 2016, Adam Green made what he’s claimed is the first feature movie to be shot entirely on an iPhone. It was his reimagining of Aladdin and, starring Macaulay Culkin and Father John Misty, used 500 papier mache props with the action staged against 40 different cardboard sets. It’s a project that encapsulates much of Green’s output: unabashedly hip, likeably warm and analogue and, above all, seemingly unmoored from anything as boring as common sense. Green was a key member of The Moldy Peaches, of course, the anti-folk band at the heart of New York cool in the early noughties. By now he’s earned the right to do whatever he wants.
And what he wants to do in 2019 is make ‘Engine of Paradise’, a record of tracks by turns folky and swooning, twinned with a comic book he’s written about humans at war with robotic insects. This isn’t a concept album about mechanised bugs, though. As Green told NME in a recent interview: “It’s not like if you listen to the [record] you’re gonna hear about the plot [of the comic]… These are just songs that I was gonna write, though they’re all from the same mental space.” So this album is a kind of loose soundtrack that stands alone on its own merits.
There are many merits here. New York cult classic Midnight Cowboy turns 50 this year, so it’s apt that there are nods to ‘Everybody’s Talkin’’, the woozy Harry Nillson folk number that weaves through the soundtrack: the finger-pickin’ ‘Freeze My Love’ could have appeared alongside it. Green sings in a lush baritone, which, coupled with the marching strings that kick in at the verse, adds gravitas to lines such as, “I’m discounting your blame… You can’t love.” Ghostly backing vocals – perhaps delivered by Florence + The Machine’s Florence Welch, who appears throughout – contribute to the sense that the Moldy Peaches’ arch irony is a thing of the past.
Green has penned some beautifully sincere lyrics. On ‘Escape This Brain’, backed by marching strings, he insists: “I’ve cancelled my shame”. ‘Rather Have No Thing’ goes a bit ‘Moon River’ before he croons, “I’ve bought some airplane glue for my soul,” and the song drifts into fragments of piano. The record bows out with ‘Reasonable Man’, its most epic song, as Green, with a backing vocalist (not Florence), admits: “[I tried] poking a hole in what’s feeble / But my arms are too short.” It’s the sound of a former trendsetter, settled happily into adulthood, doing his own thing, following his muse, comfortable in his skin. It’s a pleasure to hear.