avid Wingo, aka Ola Podrida, may be trying to trick us. I don't mean with his band name, which Wikipedia informs me is a variant of the Spanish for “rotten stew” (originally “powerful stew”), which eventually came to mean “a musical composition formed from fragments or themes from diverse works,” although that description certainly belies the focus on display throughout Ola Podrida. And I don't mean the way Ola Podrida went from Wingo's name for his home recordings to a band, or his past as the guy who does David Gordon Green's soundtracks.
Rather, the fast one I think I detect is Ola Podrida's aw-shucks acoustic troubadour veneer. The Paul Duncan-esque “The New Science” opens the record as if Wingo is trying to be the next Damien Jurado or maybe Sam Beam and even the gentle caterwaul of the subsequent “Jordanna” suggests a lovely but low-key album along the same lines as something like BC's Solarists or even a less harrowing variant of Jason Molina's truly solo material. Although as a touring entity Ola Podrida is now five men strong, Wingo recorded the debut on his lonesome. But then the end of “Jordanna” starts kicking up dust with nothing more than a slightly harder acoustic strum than before, what the press release calls “horseshoe percussion” (as good a name for it as anything), and Wingo's increasingly impassioned voice. The real kicker is “Cindy,” a few tracks later, which certainly doesn't feel like the work of one guy. As the drums slam in and Wingo sings about a woman setting fire to her home, I begin to realize this is what I'd hoped Grizzly Bear's Yellow House would sound like.
Wingo doesn't shift into full on fuzzy indie rock mode that often on Ola Podrida, but when he does he makes me reconsider the vast reserves of apathy I have for much of it these days. The album is much gentler and more self-effacing than most of its opposition, and, like Horse Feathers, Wingo keeps things hazed out and textural enough that I can't or don't care to follow what he's saying most of the time as long as he keeps saying it so compellingly. An occasional lyric like the driving “Lost and Found”'s “Everyone’s a dog when they fall in love / Roses cover up the old debris” is sharp enough my attention snags on it, but mostly I'm too busy enjoying to parse. Wingo keeps the songs here consistently and beautifully out of focus, giving the whole album the kind of weirdly unified feel that means until you've lived with Ola Podrida for a while you have trouble telling verses from choruses, let alone songs from other songs. It's the kind of effect that makes us think of albums as more than the sum of their parts.
The quieter tracks here like the rueful “Photo Booth” and the bitter “Pour Me Another” still sound as if their contemporaries are Sixteen Horsepower or, hell, Band of Horses instead of Duncan or Samamidon. Even the closing banjo-jangling “Eastbound” is brawnier than I expected at first. But in crafting these songs mainly on his own Wingo gets a chance to substitute craft for flash—there may not be many pyrotechnics here, but the moment the gorgeous “A Clouded View” subtly shifts to ascending from circling is worth ten power chords. Ola Podrida isn't just a strikingly accomplished debut—it's near-essential listening for anyone who's been taken with the recent turn in some parts of the indie cosmology towards folkier and more countrified sounds. David Wingo's already given us one of the year's most dependable albums, and it's exciting to think of what he might do with an actual ensemble next time.
Reviewed by: Ian Mathers
Reviewed on: 2007-05-31