Image Courtesy of Brighter Later
When I first heard “The Woods”, the debut single from Melbourne’s Brighter Later, I was very excited about the album that was to follow. Much has already been said about their influences, from the psych-folk of Grizzly Bear, to the dream pop of Beach House, the slow swoon of Mazzy Star, and of course the Nick Drake album from which we all presume the group took its name.
These are useful reference points, habitual conversational shorthand. But listening to The Wolves for the first time, I found these comparisons somewhat arbitrary. It didn’t take me long to realise that Jaye Kranz and Virginia Bott have created something more than trendy.
Opening track “All the World” is a promise, the crystalline chime of a Rhodes piano like a cool breeze, the shimmering of electric guitar and auto-harp like running water in the distance. The sheer depth of sound belies the DIY recording process the press release describes. Lo-fi recording often presents a realism that is fastidiously scrubbed away by commercial production and I can hear that realism. The acoustics of the church they recorded in, the creeks and cracks and small sonic accidents are all proudly preserved.
But there is a precision in the way these sounds are arranged which could only have been crafted. All the elements are carefully mixed to create a unique and fascinating texture, which surprises at every listen. It’s the kind of sound you’d expect from a dozen musicians in a world-class studio.
Even in its sparser moments, The Wolves tries to offer something new. In “Magnolia”, a tremulous vibraphone hovers over Kranz’s acoustic guitar, like a relic from an old record, warped by time. It’s simple, but eerie, somehow alien, and the whole song twists itself around it.
Many reviews have spoken about how The Wolves acts as an experience, a journey into another world. This is what I expected to take from it. On first listen, I eagerly immersed myself in its layers of sound, imagining a review which raved about how the album isn’t dead yet, the kind of thing people often say about slow, cerebral song cycles. I could have written all that, and it would have been true.
But away from my headphones, I was surprised to discover that it wasn’t the sound, or even the experience that stayed with me. When I thought about it, what immediately sprung to mind was the dry humour in “All the Great Lakes”. “I took every road, just to see what it takes. I think I see now”. Or the way “Slow Roller” is classic Australian country music in drag. Or the ethereal whimsy of “Another Day”. “I won’t calculate the latitude, if you won’t calculate the magnitude”. Or even the breath-taking coda to second single “Come and Go”, true musical perfection if I ever heard it.
In a recent interview, Kranz professed that in her opinion, the best songs are the simplest. “The bones are the bones,” she said, “and in no time, they’ll be what remains – what the song leaves behind”. She is true to her word. Under the skin, what is left is honest folk balladry; songs which would be just as affecting with only a voice and guitar to perform them.
I’m glad these songs have been so impeccably dressed. The beauty of their arrangement is a credit to Kranz’s and Bott’s inventiveness and musicianship. And I can’t lie. If the singles had been less well-produced, I might not have been as quickly won over. But when people remember this album, and they will remember it, I promise, they’ll think about the bones. And that’s how it should be. Each of these songs is good enough to last, as Kranz put it, “like any good bone. Strong and bear”.