Patrick Wolf

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Lycanthropy (2003), 7/10
Wind in the Wires (2005), 6.5/10
The Magic Position (2007), 6/10
Bachelor (2009), 6/10
Lupercalia (2011), 5/10

(Clicka qua per la versione Italiana)

Patrick Wolf is an auteur of electronic chamber pop and folk music from Michigan.

Lycanthropy (Tomlab, 2003), an extended allegory delivered via ornate piano and string madrigals (the majestic To The Lighthouse, Wolf Song, Demolition, sometimes reminiscent of Bjork), synth-pop ballets (Bloodbeat), and dark psychodramas (Childcatcher and Paris, both bordering on Nine Inch Nail's industrial rock), introduced novel elements in the "digital folk" format inaugurated by Four Tet while anchoring them to a classical form of storytelling. Wolf's skills at blending neoclassical music and folk music peak with the delicate Pigeon Song and the instrumental Epilogue.

The childlike, dreamy atmosphere of the debut album turned into an introverted and somewhat elaborate riddle on Wind in the Wires (2005). The main drawback is that the material is inferior. The single The Libertine boasts virulent delivery and trotting rhythmic progressions punctuated with swirling gypsy violin and with a buzzing electronic undercurrent. While less immediate, the complex structures of Wind In The Wires better illustrate Wolf's storytelling skills The gargantuan ceremonial music even dwarfs the story of Ghost Song. The catchiest number, Tristan, is scarred by ferocious arrangements and groaning vocals, a combination more reminiscent of Nine Inch Nail than of pop singer-songwriters. Teignmouth employs a soundscape of floating vocals and strings, syncopated beat and electronic noise to match Wolf's melodramatic crooning. This Wheater blends neoclassical piano and violin with techno beat, and suddenly all instruments and the beat shift gear in unison to propel the melody to a noisier dimension.
The problem is that too many songs (The Gypsy King, Lands End) careen along telling interesting stories but agonizing to find an adequate musical container, despite the deluge of sonic details.

Abandoning any pretense of bedroom isolationism, Wolf invested decisively in pop refrains on The Magic Position (Universal, 2007): The magniloquent Overture, The Magic Position (that could have been a bubblegum hit in the 1960s) and Get Lost (his three catchiest numbers to date) simply rediscovered the artful appeal of Kate Bush's eccentric pop with a bit of Jim Steinman's sentimentalism. Which means that songs such as Accident & Emergency rely mainly on bombast, and the once who don't are unjustly overlooked (the stately horror of Augustine).

The Bachelor (2009) tries a bit too hard to sound accessible, matching the melodic flair of The Magic Position with a newly-found passion for danceable rhythms and digital gloss. Hard Times is propelled by a driving rhythm, a booming bass line and wailing Arab-like strings. Exotic strings and a primal beat (augmented with flamenco-like electronic percussion) animate Oblivion as well, a devious song that displays a bit of Syd Barrett's eccentric madness and boasts a captivating game of vocal registers. A syncopated pow-wow pace and chaotic piano-violin counterpoint permeate the agonizing Nick Cave-ian recitation of The Bachelor. A limping drumbeat and neoclassical arrangements punctuate the theatrical aria of Damaris, that many Broadway musicals will envy.
This songs marks the transition from the angry and dark first part to a more lyrical second part that includes the pensive Celtic lullabye Thickets and the organ-driven gospel singalong Who Will?.
The third part of the album is a confused hodgepodge of styles, to say the least, starting with the silly disco-punk novelty Vulture (a collaboration with "digital hardcore" guru Alec Empire that ends up sounding like a Billy Idol B-side) and continuing with the intimate piano ballad Blackdown that turns into a soaring Riverdance-like Celtic hoedown, peaking (for better and for worse) with the punk fervor of Battle, that sounds like a parody of Nine Inch Nails.
The first four songs would have made a powerful EP. The rest is mostly tedious and uninspired filler.

Other than its busy production, Lupercalia (Hideout, 2011) is mostly a devoted endorsement of the dance-pop revival of the era, although with eccentric twists: the Huey Lewis-esque rhythm'n'blues anthem "The City" (replete with a retro-sax solo), the Abba-esque "House" (the piano steals the refrain of The Winner Takes It All), and (on the downside) Time of My Life (a lame predictable melody supported by the least inventive chamber string ensemble of pop music). The redeeming moment is the melodrama Armistice, launched by a masterful disturbing opening of piano and drones, and then sustained by a relentless continuum of eerie choral and instrumental counterpoints to the singer's solemn crooning.

(Copyright © 2003 Piero Scaruffi | Terms of use )
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