Last year, Patrick Wolf’s debut album, Lycanthropy, quietly blew the minds of English music critics. He slipped by most American audiences, but those who stumbled across his full-throated howling and violin-tinged electronica joined their cousins across the Atlantic in throwing roses at the young artist’s feet.
The fervor around him had its detractors, naturally, who leveled charges of what amounted to “dandyism”— affected posturing meant to delude fans into thinking he was the eccentric prodigy everyone said he was. The suspicions were understandable, though unwarranted; there’s a child-like imagination at work behind Wolf’s poetic lyrics and colorful, self-tailored thrift-store wardrobe, and it tends to draw slander from more cynical music lovers who have seen all manner of marketing and manipulation in the Age of the Pop Star.
Despite naysayers’ doubts, Wolf has a bite to go along with his bark, and on Wind in the Wires it has distinctly evolved. While Lycanthropy was a time capsule of his turbulent adolescence, and especially of the years spent surviving on the streets of London as a teen-runaway, the songs on Wires betray a sense of reconciliation and peace. Gone are most of the pounding, Faint-style beats that once accompanied his wounded voice, but in their place are lush musical soundscapes that are no less enrapturing.
While Wolf’s sorrowful vocals are still the primary instrument carrying each song, he puts his classical background to greater use on this album. On tracks like “Teignmouth,” the whine of violins mesh seamlessly with what sound like pulsing record skips, while an angelic backup singer haunts the background. Similarly, violin strings weave around lilting accordion melodies on “Ghost Song,” while dreamlike lyrics about a lost spirit wandering hills by the sea throw a blanket of calm over your thoughts, begging you to lose yourself in the hazy phantasmagoria.
Coldplay fans will swoon to the title track, which opens with quiet string plucks, then slowly blooms, adding layer after layer of instruments. A guitar riff here, a piano ballad there, and ultimately, “Wind in the Wires” grows into the florid masterpiece at the center of the album. Wolf puts his larynx to the test on it, with his voice soaring and swooping, imitating the “wild sighs of electricity” at the heart of the song. Comparisons to Bjork are routinely drawn to Wolf’s vocals, which have a range and power perfectly suited to reflect the imagery of freedom peppering his lyrics. Anyone who listens to the guttural growls and driving, sinister basslines of “Tristan” might be tempted to compare it to “Army of Me,” but for most part, the greatest similarity between the two artists is their talent for turning their voices into innovative musical tools. Well, there’s one other thing: the tendency to mix dancey electronica with strings, a la Bjork’s “Bachelorette,” or Wolf’s “This Weather.”
“The Libertine,” the first single from the album, stands out as the track you’ll wear out your repeat button on. Its intro could easily be the score of James Whale’s Frankenstein — a violin cries out what sounds like an ancient gypsy love song against a backdrop of humming Tesla coils. But then Wolf throws in some pulsing beats, cut and pastes the sound of a horse’s gallop, and creates a track that would cling to the airwaves, if any radio stations had the balls to play it.
On first listen, Lycanthropy fans might be disappointed by how much Wolf has slowed the tempo of his music. However, Wind in the Wires is proof that he’s capable of a broad range of styles, and is destined to be one of those artists that occupies that soft, cozy spot in the hearts of both hardcore fans and critics alike.