My path to appreciating folk and Americana was a gradual one that spanned several years and relied on a lot of transition bands. That process revealed a lot to me about music as a whole – that there’s a common DNA between quiet singer-songwriters and wailing post-hardcore outfits. You can enjoy both, albeit they’re to be appreciated in context of their respective contexts.
On first listen, Will Johnson’s Wire Mountain is a sleepy album that calls to mind other artists like Nathan Phillips (Winston Jazz Routine, The Choir at Your Door), Richard Edwards (Margot & The Nuclear So and So’s), and TW Walsh. Sleepy, of course, is meant in the most flattering of ways – an ethereal, quiet mix that exemplifies subtlety. Tender acoustic arpeggios serve as foundation under Johnson’s gossamer falsetto. Elsewhere, there’s a bit more grit at play – but even then, it’s as if the listener were in the desert amid a sandstorm. It’s still quiet, even if fearfully so.
Wire Mountain‘s cover is fitting: rustic, vintage, awe-inspiring. It’s the pursuit of a destination that is visible afar only due to sheer magnitude. It’s the diminishing feeling of being face to face with something much bigger than yourself, a la The Pale Blue Dot.
It’s a mood that runs think through the veins of the album itself. Even from the gritty undertones of “Necessitarianism (Fred Murkle’s Blues)”, the soft, eery feeling of being alone in the wilderness is at full force. The percussion feels like a hammer at an anvil. The tambourine conjures images of chains hitting the ground. It’s a track that feels intense and laid-back all at once, and this is a trick Johnson knows how to pull off with success.
“Cornelius” opens with a gospel-flavored vocal harmony paired with some of the most aggressive guitar and drums on the album. Even at his loudest, Wire Mountain doesn’t feel overbearing. The rhythms are far more foundational than ornamental here, and the steady pulse keeps things moving along without demanding full attention.
Other tracks embrace their softer side more fully. “A Solitary Slip” and “Shadow Matter” are both moody and airy jams that shimmer with simplicity and earnestness.
There are even traces of ambient compositions and unidentifiable noises on the album which gives it a surprising air of experimental flair (the album’s closer is a great example).
Wire Mountain sits well alongside fellow singer-songwriter Old Sea Brigade’s Ode to a Friend, release earlier this year. However, for every ounce of 80s and pop Ode to a Friend brings to the table, Wire Mountain brings its share of Americana and western-flavored spirit. And while Johnson may not bring the same flavor of artistry as the aforementioned Nathan Phillips and Richard Edwards, Johnson’s work certainly stands out among his local counterparts with its careful mix of nostalgia-evoking southern folk.