Picture this - you're scrolling through (more than likely) Spotify. You've exhausted your latest album du jour, unable to identify what genre, artist, aesthetic, etc. fits your fickle mood. What do you do? More times than not, you'll likely turn to one of many algorithmically "curated" playlists, because there's no way math can be wrong, right? Who knows?
So you listen. You skip through a few, listening for a snippet here, a snippet there, but nothing burrows into your ear like the ear worm you desire. Why is that? Are you the one person the algorithms can't figure out? Do you possess the most unique taste in music? Will you lead us in an uprising against the AI induced injustices subverting fledgling musicians who can't afford to grovel at the foot of the throne of Spotify and similar streaming platforms!?
Did you just the log-line of the next Steven Spielberg project that will undoubtedly be released twenty years too late?
To this point, you've probably found yourself thinking "Where on Earth is this going?" And that's more than a valid, quite possibly, warranted question. Outside of some Spielberg-ian skepticism, I swear there's a point. Why is it that so many singles featured on these "curated just for you" playlists inevitably fall short?
In a word, atmosphere.
The feeling of boarding a maiden voyage of music that is the introduction to a new artist is bound to be lost while skipping through songs at the gym. The great anxiety and care that an artist placed into creating is all but thrown by the wayside like the beads of sweat from your brow whilst atop the treadmill. There's simply no continuity in an algorithmically curated playlist. There's no consternation in whether or not the songs work in service of the whole being greater than the sum of its parts. There's no humanity (you probably saw that coming).
Anyway, back to atmosphere. It's the world in which the listener will hopefully feel at home, and return to on more than one occasion. It's where that aforementioned earworm will be most effective. Without it, a lot of the greatest songs of all time would never have taken off.
So, as you might have gathered, achieving said "atmosphere" is certainly no small feat, much less on a debut body of work, which in this case, is Widespell's excellent, and I mean, truly excellent debut EP, Sonder.
As the creative force behind Widespell, Nick Widener and his cohorts (which includes our friends from Airpark, Michael and Ben Ford) have managed to create a distinct EP steeped in a neon sheen, but tapered by very apparent peak experimental rock influence. Sonder isn't discernably no-wave, neo-prog, post-rock, new wave, or noise rock, but it does feature aspects of all, and thus the "atmosphere" of it all is born.
Sonder is uniquely it's own entity all the while paying homage to the genre it sits so confidently within. Such unabashed embrace of a style is hard to come by, but add the fact that Sonder is in fact a debut record, and you've got yourself one hell of a promising horizon for Widespell. But even within the EP, each individual song sits upon it's own respective continent of sound (to stay with the atmosphere allegory).
"Anyone" hears a sonic dissonance between Widener's despondent vocals and the moderately upbeat instrumentation. With each subsequent chorus, there's a new layer of eclat that leads to one of the more tasteful breakdowns you'll hear all year. This is the stuff you do when you're world (see: "atmosphere") building.
Meanwhile, "Neon Hearts" serves as the proverbial pick-me-up of narrative observation, floated along with active and vivid layering that elicit visions of a particular former front man of the Talking Heads.
"Sweet Forsaken" returns to the somewhat crestfallen perception that Widener's baritone brings about, especially over acoustic guitar and vaguely jangle-y percussion. "Sweet Forsaken" is probably my favorite tune on the EP if not for the celebratory subtlety and tonal shifts throughout the song, then it's the odd likeness that Widener's cadence reminds of a more rock inclined Bill Callahan.
Finally, there's "Hey Lady," which if you were to hear the tune within one of those previously mentioned "curated" playlists, more intuitive listeners might capably identify as a sensible closer for a larger collection of songs. It hits all the right dynamic shifts, with melody lines similar to Radiohead, or other Britwave bands of the era, but again, remaining distinctly Widespell all the same.
Whichever way you approach it, Sonder is a record that demands to be listened to as a whole, and not as its individual parts. Widener and co. have stepped into the neon limelight of Nashville's increasingly rarefied new age rock scene with a supremely strong record. If Sonder is the first of many, Widespell will be a name you won't soon forget, playlist or not.
Credits for 'Sonder' by Widespell
Nick Widener - Vocals, Bass, Guitars
Ben Ford - Guitars, Bass
Michael Ford Jr. - Drums, BGV’s, percussion
Josh Minyard - Percussion
Ryan Mcfadden - Piano
Scott Hundley - Piano
Produced by Ryan McFadden
Additional engineering by Scott Hundley