Tuesday, 10 September 2013

Wilder Maker Part 1: Year of Endless Light Review

For the past 2 months, I’ve had Highs on repeat – surprising after my slightly obsessive review, huh?  In timing somewhat akin to fate, I recently discovered Wilder Maker and Highs have acted as the perfect warm-up for them.  Lead singer Gabe Birnbaum contacted me and very kindly sent me a copy of their new LP, Year of Endless Light – is there a better kind of mail to get?! 

A quick read through his bio said that he, like me, is from Boston so I may have had a slight bias when I went to listen the 8-track LP.  At first glance, I was a little taken aback as the tracks range from 4 to 12 minutes!  That’s a bold move, given the emerging ADHD generation.  While people will listen to all 8 minutes of “Stairway to Heaven” there are endless songs that just aren’t compelling enough to convince people to stick them out.

So, in order to prevent myself from completely making my mind up about them before having heard a single note (this is a legitimate problem I have with music!), I moved on to the first track: “Float Us Through the Barroom”.

The song begins with soft guitar and each syllable beautifully stretched out.  A duet soon emerges that seamlessly weaves into the accelerating guitar.  I find Birnbaum’s voice so fascinating as through each song it seems to seesaw between strength and desperation.  Each word is passionate and warm, and it feels like the words are being drawn out by the instrumentals, which results in a very pleasant tone.

The next track, “Wasting my Time” changes up the tone completely!  Suddenly, you’re a fly on the wall in a dustbowl jam session with Woodie Guthrie – Birnbaum’s voice even conforms to the change in genre.  The song finishes with a 70s-inspired guitar riff.  This is the type of song that I picture M. Ward producing if he spent a few years in Alabama!  I’m generally not a big country fan, but this is a great track.

“Hangs Hooks” then darkens the mood with ominous harmonies and is followed by “Song for the Singer”, perhaps my favorite song off the LP!   It’s a little slow, and definitely not the most exciting track off the album.  However, this is the music at its finest for me.  My favorite song of all time is “Uncertain Smile” by The The.  It’s caulk-full of solos leading up to a very longwinded crescendo with the best kind of lyrics: poetic and ambiguous.  While “Song for the Singer” sounds nothing like “Uncertain Smile”, it’s still that type of song and is a win in my book.  However, it could definitely be shortened (it’s 12 minutes and 30 seconds!), not that I felt myself thinking that throughout the 12 minutes.   “Invisible Order” is another one of those types of songs.  It begins with an unexpected saxophone; the first 15 seconds are suitable for a plot change in an Audrey Hepburn movie!  The vocal doubling on the track is really well done and there are some beautiful trumpet and piano solos weaved in.

At first, “Slow Life” reminded me of Bon Iver, but after a few more listens the song is actually very unique.  Usually the easiest way to describe an artist or a track is to compare it to another artist or track… but with this one I really struggled!  It has mesmerizing lyrics, harmonies so strong and passionate it sounds like a full choir and a captivating chorus.  This is the best song off the album, no question.

“Lullaby” preemptively slows you down for the end of the album and for the last song, “Holy Night”.   This is perhaps a slower way to end the album then I would have liked, given the more upbeat beginning.  “Holy Night” is peaceful track, however, calling a song “Holy Night” and including jingle bells makes a little out of place! It’s a great song, but it probably should have been saved for a Christmas album – and this is coming from a Jew!

Year of Endless Light is a music genre roulette wheel where you win at every outcome.  I’ve previously said how I love bands that can venture out into a new genre without losing what they quintessentially are.  Yet, this usually happens across separate albums… not throughout a single LP!  On YoEL, each song literally changes genre, but I never found myself disappointed.  This makes it difficult to know much about the band as I’m not sure I could even place them in a genre (it’s going to take me ages to write the labels for this post!).

As I listened to and experienced a multitude of instruments, vocals and genres, I found that it was all accompanied by a bizarre feeling of understanding.  Even though you won’t completely know what’s happening to you as you hear each track… you’ll just get it.  If that’s not the sign of an impressive musician and lyricist, I’m not really sure what is.

Year of Endless Light was released today!  It can be heard and downloaded here.  I was lucky enough to get to chat with lead singer Gabe Birnbaum and ask him a few questions about the album - all this to come tomorrow!  In the meantime, you've got 8 fantastic tracks to get your hands on.

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