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Album review: Turn Off the News (Build a Garden)

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‘Turn Off the News (Build a Garden)’ advises distance from the fray of global disarray. ALBUM COVER COURTESY OF LUKAS NELSON & PROMISE OF THE REAL

Latest Lukas Nelson album urges return to life’s simple pleasures


It’s nothing new—turn on the TV, flip to the news, and it can seem like the world is burning. Perhaps this is especially true today, at least as far as American media is concerned: domestic political fissures continue to split to irreparable degrees; the nation is plagued by a disturbing spate of mass shootings carried out by the disenfranchised; the prospect of nuclear war is very much alive and well after decades of dormancy; record-setting temperature swings and tempests barrage every corner of the globe, to name a few.

Yet so many people, especially the youth, assuage their unease via frivolous pursuits, such as curating the perfect Instagram presence and rattling on about the latest in the three rings of the Kardashian circus. Admittedly, it’s easier to be an ostrich than part of the vanguard.  

The notion is not lost on Lukas Nelson, but his approach is holistic in undermining the restlessness experienced by the modern populous: Turn off the news, and build a garden.

Nelson’s advocacy for detachment and indulgence in life’s simple, time-honored pleasures is obvious in every track on Lukas Nelson and The Promise of the Real’s latest album, “Turn Off the News (Build a Garden).” There’s an implied premise that the most important pieces of character and perspective are layered in these intimate moments of ignorance.

The eponymous track’s chorus reads, “Turn off the news and build a garden, just my neighborhood and me. We might feel a bit less hardened, we might feel a bit more free. Turn off the news and raise your kids, give them something to believe in. Teach them how to be good people. Give them hope that they can see.”

It’s a stanza evoking the messaging in Crosby, Stills, Nash & Young’s “Teach Your Children,” a track born in a time of equally unstable constitution. The messaging of both songs coincide on a principle: The future can be influenced through love and family.

Unlike the gentlemen of Crosby, Stills, Nash & Young, Nelson and his band live in an impressively technological world, and they also take swipes at the hollowness of screens and wires.

“I don’t trust computers anymore,” sings Nelson in the first moments of the track, “Lotta Fun.” “Gonna buy a little weed in the marijuana store,” goes the next line.  

And some might disagree with Nelson’s forfeiting of agency, as he instructs, “Do a little less thinkin’, babe. You don’t need to know the answers why,” on the track “Simple Life.”

The above declaration is easy to dismiss, as we’re creatures that crave order. But when those in positions of power seem to be less and less effective in restoring it, at least as the news would lead you to believe, perhaps its best to place your faith in the crooning of a long-haired, easy-going, soul-baring stoner. “Turn Off the News (Build a Garden)”: an album title, or words to live by?

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