Wharfer, a solo act consisting of Brooklyn’s Kyle Wall (who lists his genre on Facebook as “Scranton” — a small city in Pennsylvania between Philadelphia, Toronto and New York), makes the kind of music fully commensurate of why I choose the art form as my primary focus in life. It’s got all the best areas of pop — crisp, disciplined chord changes, lyrical sense of poignance simmering within expedited, efficient songs, but texturally it’s a complete avant-garde, composed of sporadic baths of visceral grand piano tiptoeing around pools of grainy synth, and lots of instruments I can’t even name, all ambient but strangely gripping at the same time.
Think Bonnie “Prince” Billy, in general, without the lyrical tackiness, without the boorish tendency to paint too vividly his personal life. Everything remains majestic, tentative and light, like a firefly, here, in these piano ballads, like a version of Califone even more retrofitted to a Shenendoah Davis era of vaudeville, laced with more melancholy and, of course, less overacting showiness (though again I love Shenendoah Davis).
After epic, five-minute-plus standout “To Alabama” which seems like two different songs, to be sure, with all the ground it covers and ease with which it moves along from phase to phase, “Melt down” is anything but that, although the faux-Americana Les Paul introduction is a slight disappointment (speaking of Califone, not the disappointment part but the Americana part), until on “Old Soul” you will fully renew your vows with this guy’s sense of the chord progression. It’s ingenious songwriting very much in the vein of, say, Green Day or The Pains of Being Pure at Heart, made of course here very down and lugubrious, a charade Wall pulls off for an astonishing quirkiness of voice, all damaged and full of painful albumen. Wall’s vocal crooning flanks selected swatches of these minimalist piano runs, always in perfect balance. He sounds a little bit like Dan Brown, but again, the real clincher here is how light and ethereal everything remains, even with the lyrics. Like Tim Rutilli’s, his remain fairly vague and metaphorical, the music itself driving forth more than enough haunting feeling all on its own. Indeed, by the titled track number eight, so acute and undeniable is the plangent mood conveyed here that it almost breaks your heart, similar to the excessive beauty on say a Siamese Dream, or something. Whether Wharfer too will put out a double album and incur an inordinate amount of hatred from the press and public, too, obviously remains to be seen and is somewhat doubtful given his low profile, but hey, anything’s possible, right?