Independent Clauses | n. —unusual words about underappreciated music

Elijah Wyman-Why We Never Go Swimming and Other Short Stories

May 1, 2006

elijahwymanBand Name: Elijah Wyman

Album Name: Why We Never Go Swimming and Other Short Stories
Best Element: Unique songwriting style
Genre: New-folk
Website: www.elijahwyman.com
Label Name: Blue Duck Records www.blueduckrecords.com

Band E-mail: elijahwyman@gmail.com

Like the wicked cousin of Sufjan Stevens, Elijah Wyman creates highly orchestrated folk songs augmented with a bevy of auxiliary instruments and sinister, intense moods. The songs on Why We Never Go Swimming and Other Short Stories are not paeans to good times or melancholy ruminations- they’re sordid revelations and devilishly jubilant exclamations that make Wyman seem like the ringleader of a demented New Orleans circus.

This is nowhere as evident as on the opener and title track. The song starts out with a hillbilly gallop on the drums and a dark ditty strummed on an acoustic guitar. A clarinet slides its way into the mix, creating eerie New Orleans comparisons. Wyman’s voice comes in: smooth, lithe, and yet a little bit rough and cracked around the edges. It’s a low voice until he throws it up an octave to create a more hectic sound, transforming potential shivers into realized ones with the jump. The ominous refrain of “Son, I’m coming…” will remain with you long after the album is done spinning- it’s just perfectly done.

But not all the tracks here are rooted in folk. “The Storm Outside Your Car” is a seriously creepy funeral dirge that’s built on nothing more than a plodding bass line, a persistent bass drum thud, clinking chains, a single wailing saxophone, and wildly weird vocals. It’s a bizarre way to end an album, but it fits Wyman’s odd persona. “Dove’s Blood, Desert Sand” is almost tribal in nature, as a resilient repeated drumbeat is the only accompaniment to Wyman’s fraying voice.

These experiments are interesting, but in the end they’re not as consistently interesting or replayable as Wyman’s acoustic-based tracks, which comprise the majority of the tracks here. “Even in Blue Ink, You are Black and White” is a mostly-acoustic track, revealing Wyman’s lyrical skill and casual pop sensibilities. This isn’t to say that “Blue Ink…” abandons Wyman’s crazy songwriting skills, but it’s comforting to know that even songwriters with such a highly pointed perspective can be halfway normal occasionally.

That deeply defined songwriting perspective is shown very clearly in highlight tracks such as the title track, the latin-tinged “The Life You Hide is the Life You Lose”, and the stunningly beautiful “Girls Should Drive Automatics”, which features an awesome hammered dulcimer part.

Wyman’s unique take on making music is sure to garner him a lot of fans in the new-folk scene, as Wyman has found a niche somewhere between The Decemberists, Black Heart Processional, and Stars with Why We Never Go Swimming and Other Short Stories.

-Stephen Carradini

independentclauses@hotmail.com

Stephen Carradini and friends write reviews of bands that are trying to make the next step in their careers.

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