Jonathan Wilson – Rare Birds (2018)

Posted by Green on February 27, 2018as

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Los Angeles-based singer-songwriter/multi-instrumentalist/producer Jonathan Wilson (Father John Misty, Karen Elson, Conor Oberst), returns with his third solo release. The ambitious “maximalist” album, titled Rare Birds, is released 2nd March on Bella Union and features contributions from Father John Misty, Lucius, Lana Del Rey, and New Age music legend Laraaji.

Although much of the album is comprised lyrically of meditations on a failed relationship and its aftermath, Wilson insists that Rare Birds is not really a concept album. “It’s meant more as a healing affair, a rejuvenation, a reconciliation, for others, and for me. I wanted to balance personal narrative with the need I feel for calming, healing music. I think we need journeys in sound, psychedelic gossamer-winged music, to incite hope, positivity, longing, reckless abandon and regret. It’s all in there.”

And, for this one, music critics will need to retire the comparisons to heritage rockers and Laurel Canyon troubadours as they’re hardly useful anymore. Wilson’s new sound takes a synthetic/acoustic, best-of-both-worlds analog/digital hybrid approach to achieve the complexity, sonic density and glossy hi-fi coating of Rare Birds. Heard for the first time on a Jonathan Wilson album are the sounds of synthesizers and drum machines.

“The Neil Young, CSN, Dennis Wilson and Tom Petty comparisons for the first two records were flattering, but I didn’t ever really see it that way myself”, he explains. More genuinely influenced by such disparate artists as Talk Talk, Arthur Russell and a ‘Sleigh Bells-meet-George Harrison kinda thing’, Wilson has made a “maximalist”, high density album more influenced by 80s British production more than anything to do with Southern California in 1970s. It’s a dynamic new approach for Wilson that calls to mind one of Peter Gabriel’s early solo albums or even mid-period Kate Bush. “This album is a hell of a lot more Trevor Horn than anything, you know, Laurel Canyon-related,” he muses. Recorded during the same timeframe he was in the studio with Roger Waters, working on Is This The Life We Really Want?, Wilson felt inclined to expand into certain psychedelic and sound labyrinths. There are voices, sirens, children playing, and more enhancing spatial sounds, while musical compadres Lana Del Rey and Josh Tillman (Father John Misty) appear as backing vocalists on “Living With Myself” and “49 Hairflips”, respectively.

Says Tillman, “Jonathan’s talent – “mastery” may be more apt – places him among a rarefied class of musical auteur. You’d be hard pressed to find a comparison, or contemporary for that matter, that would do his recent work ju
stice.”

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