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Wolf People


[Jagjaguwar; 2010]

By ; February 10, 2010 

Purchase at: Insound (Vinyl) | Amazon (MP3 & CD) | iTunes | MOG

It may seem lazy to start a review by pointing out how heavily an album references the past, but in this case I really don’t think anyone – not least the band themselves – would either argue or take offence. On first listen, that is indeed the most noticeable thing about the debut full-length from London quartet Wolf People; not just in terms of influences, but also more so in terms of how the record actually sounds, Tidings is stuck firmly in the swinging ’60s.

Wolf People, in their current incarnation, are a quartet featuring Joe Hollick on guitar, Daniel Davies on bass and Tom Watt on drums but, according to the press release, to all intents and purposes the music on offer here is mainly the work of singer/guitarist Jack Sharp. Tidings is a compilation of sorts, incorporating singles and unreleased sections recorded between 2005 and 2007; most tracks are segued together by the sounds of musicians tuning up, tapes spooling off their reels, feedback and relaxed studio chatter, which give the album as a whole a “sound collage.” However, unlike similarly structured albums by the likes of Faust, which tended to cut songs off in their prime, the actual songs are allowed to develop fully and run their course, allowing for a more satisfying long-play listen.

The music itself draws exclusively from three main sources: the English psychedelic, R&B and folk-rock scenes of the late 1960s. After a brief opening guitar blast, first song proper “Black Water” incorporates all three, with a Fairport-like vocal, Ginger Baker drum breaks and backwards guitar solos. In fact, a lot of the first half of Tidings sticks to this formula; musically, Cream comes to mind most often, dirge-like heavy rhythms with Sharps’s trebly guitar running freely over the top. Vocally, melodies tend mainly toward the traditional minor-key folk favoured by the likes of Pentangle and Davy Graham, with the only real exception being “October Fires,” which veers off into more poppy R&B territory and ends up like the Yardbirds doing “Little Green Bag.” The back end of the album is heavier on interludes, but lighter in tone until the instrumental “Season Part 2” reprises the opening proto-stoner jam.

Sharp and friends’ commitment to their singular musical vision really is an admirable attitude. Even when they stretch out musically, the only additional instruments are ones that could have appeared on an album made 40 years ago; no samplers, no synths – just flutes, harmonica and what sounds like a sitar on a handful of tracks. Whilst things occasionally verge on “heavy,” they stay within the orbit of bands like Black Sabbath and Blue Cheer, the immediate precursors of what we now know as metal. As mentioned at the top of this review, even the overall sound of the record – and I do mean record, as this is a vinyl-only release – is closer to the warm, spacious sound of your original Beatles masters than any band will ever achieve at Toerag Studios. Jack White would screw his sister for a sound this “authentic.”

In terms of contemporary music, the easiest comparison would be Swedish space cadets Dungen, although a line could also be drawn connecting Wolf People to psychedelic hip-hoppers such as Madlib and Oh No; not exactly obvious at first perhaps, but not so surprising when you consider much of those crate-diggers’ source material can probably be found in these Brits’ record collections.

This introductory compilation celebrates the band’s signing to the ever-excellent Jagjaguwar (the press release states they are the label’s first English signings, although I’m not sure Richard Youngs would agree), who promise a proper debut album in the near future. With any luck, the band won’t mess too much with this winning formula, as Tidings – ironically – is one of the freshest sounding albums of the year so far.


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