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Wolf People - Tidings

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Artist: Wolf People

Album: Tidings

Label: Jagjaguwar

Review date: Feb. 19, 2010

Wolf People’s Tidings sounds an awful lot like a reissue the first time through, a letter-perfect rendition of the freaky interstices between Cream and Hawkwind, with the Incredible String Band’s campfire folk songs floating through Jeff Beck’s borrowed electric blues and Jethro Tull’s panpipes tootling over Syd Barrett’s damaged faerie gardens. You might easily mistake it for a missive from the late 1960s, maybe early 1970s. Except it’s not; it’s completely contemporary, and only subsequent listens let you glimpse the post-modernist scaffolding on which this trompe d’oiel façade has been constructed.

Extended spins reveal that Tidings is a collage as much as it is a rock record, its 1960s-redolent guitar anthems pieced together with odd tape experiments and kraut-referencing canned beats. There’s a very contemporary, home-recorder’s underlayer to its custom-aged surfaces, and once you glimpse it, it’s hard to see the record the same way again.

That’s maybe because Tidings, like the previous Wolf People EP and singles, was constructed out of bandleader Jack Sharp’s home recordings, fleshed out with live instruments but only secondarily. Even the real guitar jams – slanting, blues-droning “Black Water,” ebullient Dukes of Stratosphere-ish “October Fires,” harmonica squawking “Empty Heart” – are layered with eccentric peripheral sounds. They sound at once like lost outtakes from a forgotten late 1960s Isle of Wight festival and also, though some trick of production, like an introverted studio homage never meant to be performed live at all.

Identifiable songs make up about half the album. The other half is taken up with field recorded interludes, stitched together with abstract instrumental bits, layered with mysterious juxtapositions, as well as a handful of wordless, rhythmically driven instrumental jams. It is in these intervals that you begin to sense a contemporary aesthetic, a mind that uses 1960s psychedelia as a series of images to be pieced together in a mosaic-like pattern. But the material is not just paisley vintage guitar pop, and that’s where things get interesting. Little hints of anachronism poke through the surface – a home taper’s electro beat under plaintive “Cotton Strands,” a noise band freefall in “Interlude: Scraps” – upending the familiarity of the other sounds. You begin by searching out the bits that don’t exactly fit and end up seeing how they deepen and enrich the picture. The more you recognize its complications, the better Tidings sounds.

Not that it can’t be enjoyed on the surface, too. There’s no doubt that Sharp and his mates share a deep, reverent knowledge of 1960s psychedelia – just look at the 11-song mix of obscure 1960s bands on Aquarium Drunkard. Tidings lovingly revisits those sources, and it’s worth listening to just for the glorious Yardbirds crunch of “Black Water,” the CSNY murmurs of “Storm Cloud.” But the most startling thing about this album is the way it gives you déjà vu is for songs you’ve never heard before, and the way its top coat of familiar elements allows hints of modernity to show through the thin spots.

By Jennifer Kelly

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