Tuesday, January 1, 2008

best album by a sexually ambiguous troubadour

it’s been a very tumultuous year for patrick wolf. he literally catapulted into the annals of indiedom when the magic position was embraced by pitchfork, relentless arbiter of hipness that they are, racking up some of the best headlines of the year alongside some of its better songs (do you remember when he blasted mika on his myspace? those were some good times.). the hot-panted singer, adored for his style as much as his substance, rode one hell of a rollercoaster in 2007, a ride which ended mere days ago with a pair of concerts at london’s shepherd's bush empire (one of which our very own tearknee attended). wolf, who is known for his ambiguous missives as much as his questionable sexuality (those pants, man!), is probably taking some time off to work on a new album, or his own record label (lycanthropy and wind in the wires are its first slated releases, natch), or hem some more shorts and dye his hair another color, or who the fuck knows. patrick wolf’s home life is probably just as bizarre and interesting as the magic position, which is to say, lots.

patrick wolf is one of the closest things we have to a prodigy (i’m so not counting tiny masters of today, by the way), a songwriter whose budding genius was abundantly visible to fat cat, if no one else, at the ripe old age of sixteen. while most of his peers were illegally drinking and trying to pull similarly drunk girls, wolf was squatting with friends and developing a unique personality and songwriting approach. the fat cats at fat cat gave him some new equipment and studio time, and received lycanthropy, an album that only begins to hint at his talent and genius. by wind in the wires wolf’s style was honed to razor sharpness, his distinctive talent blossoming. often defined by the twin cores of glitchy drums and string-snapping violin, wind in the wires is grand and epic, wolf’s fascination with mythology evident on songs like “tristan” and “the libertine.” for the magic position, however, wolf’s gaze turned inward.

the magic position is, first and foremost, a love album, one that captures its nuances, ecstatic highs and crushing lows both, with more charisma and sophistication than many of its peers (and is very enjoyable to boot!). one of the most striking features of the magic position is wolf's obvious versatility and flexibility, to say nothing of his candid self-assurance. his public persona is unabashedly dramatic and highly sexual, and the magic position overflows with a tangible sense of purity - this is wolf as he really is, vulnerable yet confident. however, were it not for his musical dynamism and ingenuity, patrick wolf could be just another melancholy singer/songwriter, possessed of an abundance of joy and misery; instead, he ranks as one of the most inventive and innovative pop songwriters of the new millennium, joyfully blending stiff, harsh electronic beats with wanton strings and horns, each anchored in his sweeping vision for a brave new aesthetic.

naturally, the album's most engaging song is its titular one; "the magic position" is catchy, with a riveting violin hook, and exuberant, wolf's voice soaring with delight, combined with his overwhelmingly positive lyrics, delivered in enough of an off-tempo cadence to catch the ear and keep it. his style is so bold that the magic position is, at times, almost difficult to listen to - the whole record is truly ingenious, but its brilliance is so pronounced as to make hearing it an effort. it is not easy listening. wolf can purportedly play sixteen instruments, and the aural depth of the magic position would suggest that he takes a turn at all of them - it is simply baffling, and nearly impossible, to try and identify every sound or every instrument in even a single song. that being said, the magic position has many overarching instrumental themes, chiefly, as before, a heavy reliance on dirty electronic beats and distorted drum effects. but wolf trades in his younger brashness for a more nuanced sound; album highlight "augustine" is almost a ballad, led by a emotional piano that underscores the audible worry in his voice. "(let's go) get lost," indisputably the magic position's best song, is very nearly a cacophony, with horns, theremin, keyboards, hand claps, finger snaps, and assorted electronic gadgets chirping in time, while perfectly capturing the blinding exultation of love. the magic position is very obviously an ode to love, that most universal (and indescribable) human emotion, and wolf's own love for his music is evident at every turn. he plays with a vivaciousness and rampant happiness that is absolutely infectious, so that "accident & emergency" plays on repeat in your skull, and brings a smile every time.

i have to stress that the magic position is not an easy album. it took me a long time to listen to it and really enjoy it, more than a couple months, but sticking it out is so very rewarding. it is really a brilliant piece of work, and every time i remember all that he's accomplished at the embarrassingly young age of 23, it fills me with a deep and abiding sense of shame. i think his songwriting is, more than anything else, brave - it's absolutely original and absolutely captivating and far more engaging than the absurdity of freak-folk or drone-rock, or whatever genre is in vogue right now, and pretty damn inimitable. the taut drama of the magic position is important, nay, essential, for furthering the evolution of contemporary music. it may not be the best album you've heard this year, or even the most enjoyable (it isn't either for me), but i think it's the most critical. patrick wolf is doing things musically that i'm not hearing anywhere else, and the magic position is his best work yet. it deserves your attention, and your respect.

No comments: