Wolf In a Spacesuit: Blighter Days – album review
Nat Lyon loses himself in the lo-fi textures and lyrical intensity of Wolf In A Spacesuit.
It’s time to run out the year with a bit of absurdist fun. Consider a wolf in a spacesuit, an image that cracks me up every time I think of it. A primal beast dressed up in a hi-tech costume. Then there is a man inside the wolf suit named Algebra Huxley – who composes, performs, and records an interesting mix of lo – and hi-fi music.
Put all of the above in a box with a well-crafted lyrical bow on top – and the presentation is complete. About a year ago, after hearing the Wolf In A Spacesuit song, No Birds Fly, I was compelled to contact Mr. Huxley, because I needed to know, “How many people did you need in the room to make such a lush, beautifully scripted, dirge?” Surprisingly, he wrote back. Turns out the song was recorded live with just two people, looping software, keyboards, guitars, a broke-ass 8-track mixer, and Algebra Huxley’s big imagination.
He then went into great technical detail on the signal chain he uses that allows him to simultaneously “play” several instruments and sing. A few impressions quickly formed: Algebra Huxley is a great writer/performer, an exceptional engineer, and a creative genius.
And there are no secrets with this man. While not every Wolf In A Spacesuit song hits me with the same impact as No Birds Fly, the latest album, Blighter Days, is the product of a truly fearless writer, brave enough to mix acoustic instruments with electronica, borrowing from many different genres he makes his own. In many regards, Wolf In A Spacesuit reminds me quite a bit of Snippet – a band dependant almost entirely on the work of a single composer/musician that pushes their creative boundaries and abilities – while appearing to make it look all too easy.
The songs on Blighter Days put the vocals out front. Harmonies dominate the opener, Dead, along with well constructed, textural beats, near-funk guitar lines, and swirly synths – while Huxley sings, “You’re just as dead as everybody else.” A great juxtaposition of sound and vision – and a fine first entry in the catalogue of human emotions that comprise Blighter Days. Huxley’s lyrics are as complex, abstract, and rich as the music he creates. I M O K sounds like a slightly downtempo Seazoo or Of Montreal song. The drums shake in the sub-bass zone, while a repeating synth line carries the melody. The lyrics are highly melodic and describe the monumental proportions that personal problems take on- especially when there never seems to be an escape plan. After outlining the manifestations of despair people can experience, Huxley sums things up nicely with the verse, “Laughing cuz we’re all the same. I’m awake, come inside. Damn, it’s good to be alive.” Good advice.
The Honey Glows, another top cut from Blighter Days, plays a simple guitar chord against a wall of synthesized sounds – in the tradition of The Antlers (with perhaps a bit less gloom). The addition of an acoustic guitar midway through the song adds texture – and for Wolf In A Spacesuit- the sound really is all about texture and melody. This is a beautiful and introspective song where the honey is analogous to music – and the musician is the bee that creates it.
The acoustic lo/hi-fi sounds that distinguish Wolf In A Spacesuit spill over into Full Color Visional (NOT visual) – as the melody carries Huxley’s soft voice while he sings, “I’ll walk straight off the edge with you.” Wolf In a Spacesuit writes the most upbeat songs that mask lyrics that are consistently dark, yet desperately hold on to a trace of hope and optimism.
The included lyrics are a must read – or you might completely miss the point. Palm Tree Song (Arecaceae) is probably the best example of Huxley’s unique style of combining a very simple acoustic guitar melody with downbeat techno sounds that drape abstract and truly poetic lyrics. This is not dance music – but it has a beat and substance, two critical musical elements that Wolf In A Spacesuit plays off one another beautifully and consistently.
The music does not distract from the lyrics- but they don’t always mesh either – which for me makes for a very compelling listening experience. The folk/tech approach to composition and performance comes near full circle in Constant Claustrophobia. A simple acoustic melody descends while a piano hammers a single chord in the background and Huxley sings, “I had a dream I owned a haunted house…” In a sense, we all live in houses that are somewhat haunted by memories and loss. While this is the most acoustic song on the album it showcases, yet again, the vocal arrangements and phrasing that Wolf In A Spacesuit is expert at. Hard words carried by soft voices.
On Moldenke (Collective Memory) the acoustic guitar is traded for a piano – which doesn’t fight the electronica- because like most of the other pieces on Blighter Days, this song is extremely well composed and all the instruments are woven together like a slightly funky fabric that verges on the upbeat, while the lyrics are grounded in sad truths, “The little things make me such a wreck. You wash it away. It comes back again. Life’s a bitch.” Huxley is expert at rendering pain and hurt as a shared human experience in the simplest of terms. Yes, you are hurting- because we are all hurting, and that realization is the first step towards healing and growth.
Blighter Days is a catalogue of pain, set to beautiful melodies, but it’s also a coded recipe for hope. The final song, Blighter Days, provides a tidy closure to the album. There is reassurance in knowing that bad times do get better. And the good times are fleeting- so enjoy them while they last. Lyrically, Wolf In A Spacesuit takes on raw feelings and emotions without wallowing in them or giving up. The accompanying music, which is beautifully arranged and performed, provides an analogue for the complexity of human emotions – it’s not window dressing or veneer. Yes, the lyrics are moody and often sad – but the music is not, and this is an extremely satisfying combination. You can put a wolf in a spacesuit, but at the end of the day, it’s still a wolf. And there are no secrets here.
You can stream and purchase the digital version of Blighter Days at Bandcamp.
And you should follow Algebra Huxley on Twitter – his tweets are as abstract and poignant as his lyrics.