Rendered by self-introspection, removal and reflection, perhaps the best thing Sean Wagner could have done was, in fact, to walk away from it all. As evidenced by his new album, Word Came With the Evening, Wagner seems to have found whatever he was looking for. The 11-tracks play out with exuberance–proto-pop sentimentalities and radio friendly melodies, with the addition of a genreless horn section. Allowing the brass to simply shine for its own merit and to nestle neatly in with the rest of the instrumentation is a bright spot from track to track. Also apparent is a dedication not just to the songwriting and not just to the musicality, instead the sound conveys a commitment to the whole of the songs.
Opening to the staccato melody of “Hawthorne” the body of instrumentation is upfront with electric chirps, slight percussion and horn foundation. The groove of the track may bear some resemblance to a down-tempo ska or mock reggae piece but the arrangement of the song sees the vocal delivery and musicality in harmony through the initial verses making it something entirely its own. The closing solo is comprised of pristine trumpet at the lead with an undercurrent of offbeat trombone slides. Those 23 seconds is a small window of pure genius in placement and execution. “Not Yet” is a slight instrumental interlude showcasing the “music-only” capability of the group. Piano builds through to the addition of strings, backing percussion and eventually horn blasts, with barely a guitar (or any other standard instrumentation) to be heard. The terse track crescendos through the body of the track, adding more and more facets to the soundscape and conveys the strength of the musicality without so much as one cymbal crash. Jangle strum opens “The Victor” with Wagner channeling Death Cab’s Ben Gibbard and his penchant for upper range, nasal vocal delivery. Drumstick percussion joins the fold just under the horn interplay and intermittent electric guitar fills. With its sing-songy ethos one barely notices the addition of cryptic Edgar Allen Poe verses to the lyrics and would never guess this was a song about darker matter all together. “Cascadia (Wash Us Away) is a down tempo, demure track that cleverly hides the track ethos of a long-overdue catastrophic event that hits the Oregon coast much in the same way as The Decemberists’ “Calamity Song.” It’s a songwriting feat that plays out as intended without sounding contrived or forced.
Much like the “mise en place” in the culinary world, Wagner has done the same thing with these tracks in terms of “everything in its place, as it should be.” The vocal delivery doesn’t stand out amongst the tracks, but shares the space with the instrumentation. And as mentioned, the vast musicality is impressive in that the use defies convention. Horns assume the lead on many of the tracks and are used as addition fills in others. “Guitar-driven” isn’t in the Wagner dictionary on this album, instead the approach can only be described as atypical and proof that the tracks were treated with due diligence. Moody and brooding at points and cheery and uplifting at others; this is well composed plus some.
by Chris West – firstname.lastname@example.org
I give this 4/5 Skopes.