Django Haskins: Beforetimes 1   ★★★★  | Self-released; Monday, Feb. 28

Even before 2020, the term “before times” contained multitudes. After the Black Plague swept medieval Europe in the 1300s, it became a common Middle English adverb before popping up in the King James Bible and across Caribbean folklore.

As a modern concept, though, the term is rooted in dystopian science fiction, appearing in works ranging from Mary Shelley’s 1826 novel, The Last Man, to a 1966 episode of Star Trek and the 1985 movie Mad Max Beyond Thunderdome.

Of course, after a weary two years of the COVID-19 pandemic, the phrase has elbowed its way back into our modern lexicon. How appropriate, then, that local folk-pop standout Django Haskins has prepped a majestic collection of songs dubbed Beforetimes 1 (out now) and Beforetimes 2 (out in April). Recorded just before the pandemic, the twin bill packs a wistful punch, marrying melancholy with merriment.

Languid dreams unspool over sparkly keys on “In Afternoons,” while complex chord changes soundtrack “Trim the Sails” on a bluebird day in Chicago. “You Never Know” captures gleeful lightning in a bottle (“If there’s a luckier guy than me, I’d like to meet him”) as Haskins lives large, but “Tomorrowland” spikes the sunny proceedings with minor-key piano and haunting horns.

Beforetimes 1 is deliciously intricate, spotlighting Haskins’s immense skills as a solo composer—my favorite track is the soaring power-pop arrangement “Cutting Onions,” which unpacks the knot of masculinity (“Be a man now / And admit it / No one knows how to be a man”). Still, Haskins credits the contributions of his supporting cast of Skylar Gudasz, Matt Douglas, and Syd Straw as “the thing I’m most excited to share with the world.”

In the end, Haskins’s lyrical barbs hit the hardest. “Trim the Sails“ contains perhaps the most poignant pandemic reflection of all: “Living in a time when time itself has gone off of the rails / The winds of change / Make me feel strange / I wish we’d trim the sails.”

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