It’s hard to begin a review about an album by a singer/songwriter, especially if they are a newcomer. You can’t think of much to say that doesn’t involve describing the album as ‘gentle’ or ‘acoustic’ or how the artist sounds hushed and contemplative. Lucky for you and me Wilderness is the new album by the multitalented Archer Prewitt who has yet to be reviewed by Only Angels Have Wings, so I can drop some of his history and tell you why this album matters in a genre brimming with the mundane.
Prewitt began his notable musical career with The Coctails and then went on to join the Sea and Cake along with other luminaries from the Chicago music scene; members hailing from both Shrimp Boat and Tortoise, respectively. Prewitt also does some drawing on the side it seems (his Sof’ Boy comic has developed a cult following), and that wonderful cover illustration on Wilderness is just a peak at a whole other avenue of talent. This is his fourth full length as a solo artist whose growing back catalogue can easily stand up against prior achievements. All of Prewitt’s albums are carefully composed and are often described as cinematic and melancholy (which is also said of the emotional electronic wallop that is M83, but just picture this singer/songwriter thing). So then, what makes Wilderness a valid release to be reckoned with by the amateurs in such a field? Why, I thought you’d never ask.
From the first few perfectly clear chimes and the full bodied acoustic guitar on “Way of the Sun” it’s evident that the whole album is going to sound just as close and warm. Then comes Prewitt’s voice; it is a pleasure to listen to, sometimes comforting, sometimes forewarning of danger ahead. There are a few moments though, where it transcends typifying adjectives and takes on a life of its own (I only wish such moments were more frequent, he has a beautiful falsetto). His guitar playing remains strong on the whole album, but it is the carefully composed musical accompaniment that fills out the record so nicely. There are a lot of guest players here, and listening to the album you can hear that each fulfills a role that is fundamental to every song. “Way of the Sun” is the most up beat and accessible song on Wilderness but it is only one track among eleven deceivingly arranged and surprising songs.
Like some of you have already heard, Prewitt tends to dive down new and wonderful paths towards the end of each song on Wilderness and it is indeed these slippages of established structure and melodic flourishing that mark the best spots on the disc. “Leaders” and “O, KY” are wonderful from the start, however, the sudden changes mid song are the moments that put a smile on your face. It really is hard to pick a standout track on this album: every song is pleasantly unfurled and usually gives way to a contagious melody. Also, percussion is usually the last thing that people note when talking about music like this, but the carefree (not careless) drumming and strong-yet-gentle cymbal hits serve as the backbone of most of these songs. I’m going to go ahead and call this some of the most ‘pleasant’ drumming I’ve heard.
It should be said, though, that Prewitt is not a pop craftsman in league with the likes of A.C. Newman or Brian Wilson or groups like The Shins. His approach to pop is much more subtle and should be appreciated like a fine wine rather than Poprocks and Coke. Although Prewitt comes off like a senior among the more romantic and enthusiastic singer/songwriters, he brings with him the same gentle and comforting sensibility that is characteristic of the wisest, most mature musicians.
- Andrew Iliadis
/apr 15th 2005/