(Faith & Industry)
||"Don't Say No"
Named after the delusional condition in which a human assumes
the characteristics of a wolf, the debut album from this 20-year
old begins with a full-mooned howl. Literally. But what could
easily be a painfully precocious collection of songs is in fact
a delightfully strange pop record. Patrick Wolf has been playing
music since he first picked up the viola and violin at the age
of six; by age 11 he was writing songs and recording them to his
four-track. Though there are a few guest musicians, including
a small chamber orchestra, Wolf usually accompanies himself with
tracks of accordion, finger-picked guitar, clarinet and even a
baritone ukulele, often filtered through a laptop. Manipulating
the natural sounds of traditional instruments is certainly not
in short demand these days, however this Irish whiz kid is not
experimenting with glitchy, organic audio pastiches in the same
way as the Books.
Throughout Lycanthropy, Wolf seems to be some sort of
new millennium troubadour, the songs often taking on a 19th century
Dickens quality by way of his dramatic flair and colorful imagery.
In a storytelling sense, he fits in perfectly with the new, imaginative
breed of songwriters like Sufjan Stevens sans the religious overtones;
and though both utilize open arrangements and often use minimal
layers to set the mood, Wolf's expertise is at juxtaposing sounds
Beginning with a pretty finger-picked guitar introduction, "Don't
Say No" turns into catchy slice of bouncy synth pop that,
if not for the accordion, would sound perfectly at home on a Postal
Service album. "Wolf Song" is straight-up chamber pop
while the theatrical, elastic-voiced delivery of "The Childcatcher"
reminds me of Xiu Xiu, right down to the electronic clanks and
overtly sexual lyrics. But Wolf's best example of style juggling
can be heard in "A Boy Like Me," where multiple layers
of digital doo-wop vocals are sung over hyper, Alec Empire-like
Lycanthropy was written and recorded over an eight-year
period, so by album's end you've witnessed a songwriter's emergence
from adolescence. It's impossible not to be curious about what
Wolf's future songs, post teenage misanthropy, will be like; I'm
certain they will continue to be bizarre, ambitious, and good.