When Peter Oren retreated to an isolated cabin to record his third album, little could he have known how eerily pertinent its themes and points of discussion would become. Emerging into a world reeling from the outbreak of COVID-19 and living in lockdown, The Greener Pasture has its sights set on those black mirrors, our phones and computer screens, and the corrosive dependency they have instilled in all of us. That these devices have now become so vital during a pandemic in maintaining connections to our loved ones, friends and colleagues now lends the album a twisted irony; for all that Oren wishes we would put our phones down, at this moment in time we can’t.
If this all gives the impression of “farmer yelling at cloud”, it’s thankfully nothing of the sort. Rather, this is a thoughtful and incisive collection of songs that intimately chronicles our new anxieties birthed in the social media age and the weight of having the world’s history of information in our pocket. That this is expressed in musical compositions of lean, airy Americana and sung in a low, velvet rumble à la Bill Callahan lends a pleasing juxtaposition of none-more-modern lyrical content against an arcane and dusty songcraft. The album’s tussle between digital convenience and the need for simpler country living also can’t help but recall the ideological concerns of Grandaddy’s Y2K classic, The Sophtware Slump.
Much like that album, The Greener Pasture also has a mordant sense of humour. Album highlight Whole World is a lilting ballad that plays as a wry pastiche of the religious standard He’s Got the Whole World in His Hands: “I’ve got the whole world in my hand / Got no plans as I scroll and scan… there’s screens even in my dreams”. Elsewhere, Oren laments the ease with which he can look up an old flame (Don’t Eat Their Feed) or how constant stimulation is no replacement for physical contact (Gnawed to the Bone). As much as some other tracks don’t compel like those previously mentioned (there are a few minor-chord lulls that drag), this is still a worthy listen that will affirm the feelings of anyone who has ever lost an hour down a social media rabbit hole and wondered, “How did my life come to this?”