From the unassumingly-named Jonathan Wilson, the 2011 album Gentle Spirit is a languishing, mind-expanding masterpiece. With only 13 tracks, it is almost a ninety-minute listen: Wilson is not in a rush. The unhurried air of the music is audible throughout, with long, experimental introductions (such as in Desert Raven and Valley of the Silver Moon) and self-indulgent, immersive guitar solos (for example The Way I Feel). Wilson is a master at his instrument, and covers the full range of emotions without making them overtly apparent through the lyrical content. The listener is taken from an innocent, care-free happiness in the fast sections of Can We Really Party Today?, achieved by a simple acoustic sound, to a sense of infinity with the cosmic riffs that populate songs like Natural Rhapsody.
Whilst the emotional register morphs fluidly throughout the album, a certain consistency is retained by an overarching gentle-spiritedness (sorry), comprised of a pensive reflection, meditative dreaminess and something almost akin to trance at times. For example, again in Can We Really Party Today?, the final section repeats the refrain over and over like a mantra both by Wilson’s soothing, gentle voice, and the instrumental accompaniment.
This conscious effort at cyclical repetition – both lyrical and instrumental, is a key feature of Wilson’s music, along with scattered drum rhythms, long, drawn-out vocals, simple but powerful guitar riffs. These elements all rest Gentle Spirit in the loose genre of a sort of revivalist psychedelic rock, brought together most of all by the tempo changes. These happen in many of the tracks, but to the greatest effect in Woe Is Me. Slow, power grooves accompanied by the whole band are interpolated by lighter, acoustic-only sections, and the points where one stops and another starts is virtually non-existent. They rise up out of each other, seemingly out of nowhere. The result is wonderfully disorientating and since it takes a few moments for the ear to catch up with these changes, the listener is able to get lost in the music.
Another way that Wilson uses his music to fiddle with consciousness is through the lyrical content. It is predominantly ambiguous, and twists through meanings in a flow of words all sung in an understated, balanced style. He is not so much describing in detail emotional states or specific issues, but painting impressionist images (especially in Desert Raven). To do this, natural figures are used, and there is much talk of flowing water, trees and living things. In Waters Down, for example, whilst it remains unclear on the surface what he is singing about, a picture of humanity’s place in the universe and the state of our species in the world at present emerges (Natural world she needs our energy). Another good feature of Wilson’s singing is that it in no way dominates the rest of the music. It is balanced amongst the rest of the band, so that it seems as if his singing is just another instrument, as opposed to the central focus.
This is a beautiful album that provides the listener with a change of perception to one of an almost visible sound, where a range of emotions are treated with the same tender expressiveness, and the individualised voice of the singer is identified with the unified collective of the band as a whole.
Jonathan Wilson’s new album Rare Birds is released on 2nd March this year by Bell Union Records. Find dates for his upcoming performances in the UK here. Listen to the new single, Over The Midnight below. I do not own or take credit for any of the content included here (except the review!). It all belongs to Jonathan Wilson.