|Mike Wexler — Dispossession (2012)|
Mike Wexler – Dispossession
Location: Brooklyn, New York
Album release: March 6, 2012
Recording Date: 2008 - 2011
Record Label: Mexican Summer
1 Pariah 6:29
2 Spectrum 8:01
3 Lens 5:59
4 The Trace 3:42
5 Prime 3:32
6 Glyph 3:46
7 Liminal 9:32
Members: Jordi Wheeler, Charles Burst, Brian Tamborello, Andy Macleod, Ryan Sawyer, Brent Cordero, Tianna Kennedy, Matt Marinelli.
By Emilie Friedlander; March 8, 2012 / Rating: 7.8
Brooklyn singer-songwriter Mike Wexler has one of those voices you never forget. It’s at once nasal and deeply resonant, and it buzzes kind of like a vibrating string. Part of the pleasure of listening to his Mexican Summer debut is simply getting the opportunity to sit for a while with the natural, androgynous byproduct of air funneling up his throat. But what makes Wexler’s voice particularly strange is that it never sounds like it’s trying to be– especially when we compare him to other, better-known veterans of the “weird folk” revival of the past decade.
In 2007, Wexler released his stylistically hybrid, melodically ambitious Sun Wheel debut to an indie music community whose ears were already trained upon the more high profile eccentricities of artists like Joanna Newsom and Devendra Banhart. Several years in the making, Dispossession sees his gymnastic compositions pried open into something much larger than their humbler, finger-picked origins might suggest, thanks to Exile Studio’s Matt Marinelli and an extended cast of backing musicians assisting with everything from traditional rock instrumentals to strings, synths, and brass.
Recalling philosopher Walter Benjamin’s notion of the Angelus Novus (or “Angel of History”), opener “Pariah” presents us with the image of an angel flying backwards into the future, its eyes focused only on the past. This would seem an appropriate metaphor for the album’s sound, which, like most music of these times, is something of a dip into the information archive. Even as it weaves together inflections of British folk, improvised jazz, Indian raga, and psych-rock à la Pink Floyd, however, Dispossession always feels more like an intuitive reckoning with these influences than a pointed exercise in musical tourism. “Whose is the form that is forbidden you to take but yours alone?” Wexler intones over space age organ, blues guitar, and the kind of brushed drums that would sound very much at home in a bebop band. Perhaps “uniqueness” is a word that no longer applies to indie music in 2012, but at least Wexler seems to be hip to the problem, and to reckon with it gracefully.
While we’re talking comparisons, there is a complexity to Wexler’s compositional style, for example, that will remind some of reclusive folkster Cass McCombs– the unforeseen chord and time signature changes, the almost unnecessarily accidental-rich vocal and guitar melodies. Unlike McCombs, however, the storytelling here seems to take place less through words than through the music. Dispossession‘s lyrics tend toward the metaphysical and the abstract, more vehicles for his voice than points of interest in themselves. We could try and figure out exactly what Wexler is trying to say to us on “Spectrum”, for example, when he details the fractals of light produced by a prism, but we’re unlikely to be hit over the head with any epiphanies before getting carried away by its pattering tablas, its husky strings, and the soaring key shift that occurs between the verse and the chorus.
As with a beautifully carved piece of furniture, what makes Dispossession one of the most inspired folk records I have heard in a long time has less to do with large revelations than with the finer details of craftsmanship: the entry of a vibrating synth chord at just the right moment during a rhythmic instrumental break (such as on “Pariah”), or the rapidly ascending and descending scale that interrupts the cantering momentum of “Prime” while also somehow pushing it forward. The thoughtfulness of the album’s construction extends to its architecture at large, which begins and ends with a crescendoing, mantric rocker, and offsets the baroque complexities of “Prime” with the unadorned, almost a cappella spaciousness of “Glyph”. At the end of Dispossession, it’s hard not to feel like we’ve really traveled somewhere, though of course, we’ve been moving in the tiniest of increments all along.
Biography by Fred Thomas
Almost perversely skilled in the Jansch-ian school of acoustic guitar picking, Mike Wexler snake-charmed the Brooklyn underground in the mid-2000s with his free-form songs and druidic Robyn Hitchcock voice. A startlingly affecting and spare debut released on I and Ear Records in 2005 immediately placed Wexler far above his dronier freak-folk peers. He pursued more expansive territory with full band instrumentation and captivating arrangements on Sun Wheel, the elliptical 2007 release on Amish Records. Wexler returned in 2012 with Dispossession. His first recording for Mexican Summer, Dispossession was the result of over two years of intermittent recording, an eerily beautiful sound world featuring guest appearances from members of White Magic and the Occasion as well as a host of N.Y.C. improvisers.
By Drew Litowitz on March 9th, 2012 / Consequence Of Sound / Rating: 4
Mike Wexler may not be of this time, or any other, for that matter. Dispossession, Wexler’s second full-length and his Mexican Summer debut, is definitely a “Where did this thing come from?” type of record. And though the answer is obviously not as peculiar or interesting as you might desire, for a record as utterly enigmatic and transient as Dispossession, more occult conclusions could also be argued. I’m not fully convinced Wexler is more than a wandering spirit.
Dispossession exists on its own plane of acid-washed semi-wakefulness. Throughout its short-lived daze, Wexler’s nasally hum drifts along waves of curling synthesizers, galloping bass drums, the occasional horn and drum ripple, and crawling fingerpicking. It’s a directionless map of haunting, shamanistic hymns with free jazz and post-rock. Its unintelligible lyrics are drooled out over lush hypnotics: dissonant strings, climbing piano, sliding bass, and howled, nearly unintelligible, whispers.
The thing sounds like a Mars sunrise getting high off paint fumes–like Kevin Ayers, Wendy Carlos, Roy Harper, Syd Barrett, Robert Wyatt, Brightblack Morninglight, Talk Talk, and Dan Bejar pulling an all-nighter on the crust of a stoner’s eyelid. Describing individual songs feels pretty superfluous, since the thing flows and drifts so elegantly and seamlessly. I will say that the incessant tom hits, jaunty keystrokes, and ascending, recurring breakdowns of “Prime” carry the most weight on a record with a deliberate lack of any gravitational pull.
But really, this is a record to fall asleep and wake up to at the same time, and listening to it in pieces would really be beside the point. After it’s all done, it’s difficult to put a finger on what made it so awesome. It’s a dream you can’t remember but pray for every night. Ladies and gentleman, we are floating in space, and Mike Wexler is somewhere way off in the distance, gargling some ayahuasca and gesturing for you to join him… you think.
Essential Tracks: “Lens”, “Prime”, and “Liminal”.
|Mike Wexler — Dispossession (2012)|