Album Review: Josiah Wolf – Jet Lag

[Anticon; 2010]

Despite being the older brother to Yoni Wolf (better known as WHY? to indie rockers and rappers alike), Josiah Wolf has taken a back seat in comparison to his sibling’s post-cLOUDDEAD career. Other than drumming and other roles in the WHY? band, his only other released musical venture was a self-released EP back in 2003. I’ve been wondering since then if I’d hear from Josiah again. Thankfully, though sadly considering the circumstances surrounding the release, we do with Jet Lag.

One of my fears was of course whether or not this would sound like a WHY? album. Thankfully this turned out not to be the case. Though Yoni mixed the album, all the instruments were played by Josiah alone, and the songs are self-penned as well. The immediate difference is how un-busy the songs are, in addition to the sombre moods and softer textures; in other words, a WHY? album this isn’t, and that’s definitely not a bad thing. As much as I like the WHY? albums, I always thought I was being bombarded by them and the jarring sonic elements. Jet Lag gives you space to breathe and appreciate the gentleness of sounds like the guitar to “Skull In The Ice,” the woodblocks of “Master Cleanse (California)” or the closing rain on “The One Sign.”

This approach to production completely fits with the song subjects. The album revolves around the dissolution of Josiah’s 11-year marriage and the move back to Cincinnati, Ohio, where Yoni and Josiah were born and raised (not to mention, where WHY?’s first group cLOUDDEAD formed). Indeed, the tracks reflect the slow burn of the long plane ride return home. No song reflects this greater, I think, than “Skull in the Ice,” where the title of the album is lifted from the lyrics. I read not too long ago that the middle of the album is where you put the weaker songs, so the beginning is where you hook the listener and the end of the album is where you give them payoff, leading to the popular notion of “filler.” I think it’s safe to say that this is not the case for Jet Lag, and “Skull in the Ice” being track five out of 12, bucks that line of thinking.

That’s not to say that there’s only one good song in this album. “Is The Body Hung” is an incredible, surreal number that happens late in the album, and where Josiah’s way of combining poetic imagery with his cool approach to the earlier songs, and makes it work. “Master Cleanse” is catchy with its thumping tom drum and paints a great scene with the wide-panned electric guitars. “In The Seam” has a great melody that takes the listener by surprise. I just hope that Josiah’s next record isn’t so depressing; I’d like to hear what he can do with more happy subjects.