Independent Clauses | n. —unusual words about underappreciated music

Wooden Wing: Between folk-pop and freak-out

November 2, 2013


It’s kind of unfair to say that any completed document is in transition. No matter its relation to what came before and what comes after, the work is done. It should stand alone, on its own merits. We should not ask it to have conversations with that precedes it. We like narratives, though; rock critics, and humans more generally. So although I’d like to let Wooden Wing‘s Permanent Daydream be a Žižek work or Danny Boyle film, I feel compelled to talk about the release’s predecessors and pontificate on the band’s possible futures. Does that help you know whether you want to listen to Permanent Daydream? Or should I just tell you up front that it’s a strong album from a band maturing into its sound?

The album arrives after two EPs of folk-pop, the latter of which I praised as unveiling “a bright future for Wooden Wing if they keep writing and growing.” They have indeed kept up both ends of my request, and this 10-songer is the outworking of that. The onwards-and-upwards bit sees the band expanding its sound by pointing their ship toward the wild, folk-inspired freak-outs of Blitzen Trapper. The songs show the band in mid-stride, with one foot not having left the pop-folk realm and the other not quite landed in the brave new world of no-rules–or at least, fewer-rules–songwriting that a total departure would entail. (Folk-pop is the lifeblood of this blog, but I can still acknowledge that the genre is more like college football and less like Blitz 64 in its level of freedom afforded to its actors.)

The 5-minute instrumental “Moonshine Dusk” is their headiest and most successful track. Joel Masters’ lucid, lively bass work does its impressive best to push against a laid-back guitar/pedal steel/sparse percussion/rain noises backdrop. The results are like a back-porch jam where your bassist is fed up with playing the root chord; it’s fitting that the rest of the band quits and Masters just keeps jamming for almost thirty seconds at the end of the track. You go, bassist. That sort of exploratory, “who cares, why not?” ethos also comes out in “Navigator” and “Labyrinth,” which are both heavy on woozy analog synth. Strong, interesting songwriting and excellent performances characterize these tunes.

The midpoint of Wooden Wing’s continuum is “Finish First,” which starts with a very catchy folk-pop guitar structure before opening up into a rousing full-band jam, complete with guitar soloing. It’s like what The Head and the Heart have going on in their latest. “Tokyo” also flirts with the boundaries of both genres, but less enthusiastically than “Finish First.”

“Bones N Stones” is a folk-pop tune that could have fit comfortably on their previous two releases, with Ted Gerstle singing a strong melody over a solid arrangement. The rumbling, intermittent riff section of “Long Road” tries to break away from the pop-folk idiom, but the song stays pretty close to Lumineers territory. (This is not an insult; I like The Lumineers.) Of their three songwriting methods right now, though, this is the one that draws the least of my attention. “Moonshine Dusk” causes me to sit up and take notice, while “Finish First” is pretty close behind. Those experiments yield good data, as the scientifically-inclined among us might note.

Not my usual style of review, this one–but then, neither is Permanent Daydream playing it safe. There are ventures into the unknown here, and they’re worth tracking with. Will Wooden Wing keep on in this direction, honing their sound by continuous expansion? I hope so. They’re certainly doing well at it so far. On that note of growth, I’ve heard that the universe is expanding infinitely and eternally. “Into what does it expand?” is my question, and the fact that we don’t yet know is part of the excitement. Thus it is for Wooden Wing: I don’t know where they’re headed next, and that’s what makes Permanent Daydream so interesting. And so we’re back. Does knowing the chain of events make the individual incident more interesting? This time, yes. Viva la Wooden Wing.

Quick Hits: Wooden Wing / The Brokenmusicbox

July 15, 2012

Wooden Wing‘s Love or Something Similar owes an equal debt to fingerpicked pop-folk and Paul Simon: it’s hard to imagine that this EP exists without the influence of either. The tight, bright tunes have such an easygoing, open feel that I was surprised to find it the work of a quintet. I would not have been surprised to hear it was a guy/girl duo, as two vocalists trade off. Both Ted Gerstle and Mel Senftle have earnest, guileless voices that give a boost of goodwill to folky tunes that could otherwise have been moody.

Wooden Wing is fond of employing pad synths sweeps to bridge the gap between optimistic and despondent (“Bubblegum, “Finish First”), which is a space where Paul Simon spent a large part of his career. So it’s unsurprising that the title track sounds like a long-lost Rhymin’ Simon track, with perky rhythms, polyphonic acoustic guitar lines, and a lot of syllables offhandedly cast into unexpected spaces. It works beautifully, pointing the way toward a bright future for Wooden Wing if they keep writing and growing. Chicagoans, take note: they’re in your neck of the woods.

The heat bubble that engulfed most of the United States for a couple weeks has broken, so it’s been raining almost daily here in Austin. That’s perfect weather to listen to The Brokenmusicbox‘s A Life Less Underground, a heaping helping of wistful, lush, Pacific Northwest indie-folk. The album isn’t strum-heavy; the band depends strongly on vocals and piano to create the mood (although drums and guitar are definitely a part of the sound). With the main push focused on sonorous vocal melodies, the rest of the instruments are turned down in importance; this results in a very consistent release.

There aren’t many instrumental performances to point out in A Life Less Underground that stick out (although the instrumentalists are all talented), because the overall feel of the album is more important. It’s a rousing success on that front: you may not remember the names of any particular tune (except the sparse closer “California Year”), but you’ll know the album was beautiful. Still, opener “We Will,” “My Heart” and “Never” all have charms that set them apart as highlights. Fans of Fleet Foxes and Grizzly Bear will find much to love here.

Stephen Carradini and Lisa Whealy write reviews of instrumental, folk, and singer/songwriter music. We write about those trying to make the next step in their careers and established artists.

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