Wind in the Wires
atrick Wolf winters a garbage world. He eats paint and spits fingernails at the curb. He outlasts the caged night. Bricks wild with moss and the underground legend of incest, rape, the defiling of child and beast, and all of his outer-guard absences, a traveler’s knapsack retreat, a tourist’s lament—these cold-skinned images and tales people his stories like the negatives of family photographs.
Yet, somehow, for every awkward, unsettling image, he offers us a peek inside the lyrical undulation of the Moors. Thoroughly British, and thus to many thoroughly annoying, Wolf will always be a figure of polarization. He embodies the dry-eyed moisture of the UK as much as he neglects its promise. He’s unsettlingly honest, cripplingly direct. In the past, he’s tried perhaps too hard to alienate the listener with the brutality of his truths. But refuse the Victorian greed in his lusts, and you betray only your own sense of possibility.
If 2003’s Lycanthropy was the precocious unveiling of a talent, a keep-your-eye-on-this-fucker statement, Wind in the Wires is the moment where you meet him almost unrecognizable; his face is just vaguely familiar, the bone structure with the same gaunt skeletal force and the eyes the same grin, but he has grown, and somehow seems more comfortable in his awkwardness. Trained as a violinist and discovered by electronic artist Capitol K, who put out Lycanthropy, Wolf struggled with his overwrought visions on his first album, often turning the listener off with twisted songs of child rape and exploitation.
With Wind in the Wires, Wolf’s studying of composition at Trinity College Music Conservatoire seems to pay off, steadying his hand when it threatens to retreat to awkward infantilism, and refining his musical palette. As an album, WIW seems to have sprung fully-formed from a single night’s restlessness; often more organic than much of his debut, but still with a steady electro-backed pulse, its pacing and sequencing flow like water beneath a frozen creek, barely seen and mostly imagined. There is the blood and the exhaust, and there is the genius of freedom and expansion. Most importantly, for the most part, he’s shed his hyperbole.
While opener and lead single “The Libertine” begins with stately violin strokes and a cut-up horse clop beat, it’s not so much that the sound has changed, but that’s it’s been refined. Wolf’s voice is steadier and more composed. His circus girl tumbles from her steed, and Wolf plays with crooked phallic imagery, but in its subtlety, Wolf marks from the first instant his growth. There’s more reading-between-the-lines to be done here than on his debut, and its dank nature is the more beguiling for it. As the song dwindles into the elegiac strings and emerald isle chorus of “Teignmouth,” for a moment in the gleam, Wolf plays post-modern Morrissey, and the role suits him.
Following the album’s more classical middle segment, founded mostly on stark arrangements centered around Wolf’s new-found vocal strength, “This Weather” stumbles against its wheezing tape hiss and dewy piano part, reclaiming the album’s crackling tech-haze and shrouding his voice with the studio. Wolf retreats behind the hum for a moment before allowing the track’s bulging mess to bring him forward. A pummeling beat stills his anglo-croon, breathing the unsteady mist and storm of the British climate into his close.
In a better world than our own, the stomp-and-grind of “Tristan” would define the two-and-a-half minute pop song. With a hefty beat and static-dampened chorus, and bouncing against a piano loop that sounds like post-Beck Meatloaf, Wolf tongue-in-cheeks British youth. The song’s growing groove is just tricky enough to make you miss his wry grin—the first time around at least.
Of course, like his native island, the sun appears when you’d given up hope. With closer “Land’s End”, Wolf’s howling against a moonless night draws dim. His cast-offs and degenerates slink back home with the dew. Humid guitar strums stir Wolf into a moment of relative levity, and he prepares to leave his homeland. There’s no reason to jar the listener loose any longer, no reason to compel unease. Limber with simple beauty, Wolf realizes his greatest growth on Wind in the Wires’ final song. While the shaded winds drown out an accordion drawn on fire, Wolf reminds us, “It’s a wild stretch of land / Such a sad place to be.” Sad, maybe. Inhabitable like a tumbled dream, hells yeah.
STYLUSMAGAZINE.COM'S ALBUM OF THE WEEK: FEBRUARY 20 - FEBRUARY 26, 2005