Josiah Wolf - "Master Cleanse (California)" (Jet Lag)
Jet Lag is a modest slice of lonesome lo-fi indie folk as they used to make it back when the para-Pavement galaxy was still busy splintering into its constituent planets, the ruminative Bermans and the verbose Pollards and the melodically off-kilter Barlows. It gathers a dozen angles, give or take, from which Josiah Wolf considers the dissolution of a long-term relationship, in terms by turns elliptical and head-scratching and raw; it gives you as good an idea as you could possibly need of what happened, and between whom, but it rarely gives it in a challenging way.
Like John Darnielle in Get Lonely, Wolf’s narrator is still shell-shocked by loss, haunted equally by little omens (“I saw a skull in the ice before we landed, but I don’t believe in signs”) and unforgiving monumentalities (“Unused I love yous build up in my throat / And my apartment smells like divorce”). He treads a fine line between canny and cheesy, though the closest he gets to the unexpected is a confusing allusion to the book of Genesis in “The New Car”: “The way we communicate makes me feel like a snake / You try to crush my head and I try to strike your leg / But when you told me that I wasted your twenties I didn’t know what to say.” The album convincingly displays the whorls of the freshly bereaved mind—its obsessions with empty spaces and modes of transportation, its sudden cruel impulses—but the window is so clean, so bare, that an optical illusion here or there would be nice.
More arresting is the variety of fetching, evocative musical components Wolf assembles himself out of a band’s worth of instruments. Still, patch to promising patch, the overall compositional craft isn’t quite here: some songs, like “The Trailer and the Truck” and “The New Car,” strand their initial momentum; others, like “Master Cleanse (California)” and the touchingly guileless “The Apart Meant,” waste it on dud choruses that connect to nothing in particular. The most cohesive numbers are quiet and superstitious, such as closing couplet “Gravity Defied” and “The One Sign.” The rest of the time, though Jet Lag often hits the ground running, it seldom summons the will to take off.
Chalk it up in part to bad timing, given that Wolf’s multi-instrumental mastery is already familiar from his brother Yoni’s last few albums as Why?—particularly last year’s Eskimo Snow, which anticipates Jet Lag in tone and temperament alike—which set a pretty high standard for the kind of fractured, fatalistic honesty on display here. But context or no, this isn’t the work of a budding composer or an idiosyncratic lyricist, just the work of a wounded dude with a lot of talent and no overriding artistic motive. It’s a smart album about a state of stasis, and most of the time it sounds the part.