How to describe a Scouser that's gone down under but who sounds like a bunch of Taffs?
Let me explain with a bit of background on the pop genius behind the sublime album we're discussing today.
Wilding is one Justin Wilding Stokes. The guy moved from Liverpool to Australia but found time last year to record with Super Furry Animals keyboardist Cian Ciaran on one-off single "Missing Her", a nice slab of pop, and now he's back with a new album. The cut rears its head here in a radically different version. On that collaboration, the SFA keyboardist sounded like he was branching out and here on his new album, Molecules to Moons, Wilding sounds like he's paying serious tribute to the best work of the Super Furry Animals.
It's a long way from Liverpool to Oz and back to the home of the Super Furry Animals, innit?
Out in about a week or so on Half A Cow, the album is a set of perfect pop gems. Molecules to Moons is one of the most melodic and smile-inducing records I've heard in months. Beatlesque in the best possible way, tracks like "I'm Not Leaving" show a masterful command of studio technology in the service of a strong, big tune. And on cuts like "Carry Me Over" the one-time Mr. Stokes offers up the sort of indie-pop ballad that Gruff Rhys and Damon Albarn have mastered so well -- think the perfect mash-up of "Demons" and "The Universal" folks. And if you think I'm probably over-hyping this one, just give it a listen first.
It makes sense to learn that Wilding performed with more than one Furry when you spin "Deep River" with its lush chorus that shows that Wilding's time with Gruff Rhys was well spent. Still, it would be unfair to peg Wilding as only a SFA fan for this track, like others on Molecules to Moons, also nods in the direction of Nilsson and Elton John. It's a very soulful sort of pop that Wilding Stokes is plying here. In the perfect world, he'd be all over Top 40 radio.
"I Walked Her Home" bears a trace of fellow Scouse legends The Coral. Here Wilding gives us something jaunty that sounds like a lost Sixties gem updated with better production. "Monkey House" offers up The Beatles-by-the-way-of-Blur, while "Lost the Moon" is decidedly more experimental and expansive.
"Goodbye" nods in the direction of "Mile End"-era Pulp even as it mines a familiar vein of Britpop, while "Everybody is the Same" -- the free MP3 download below -- is a mid-tempo singalong that's funny even as it's catchy before descending into nice, horn-based cacophony.
The bonus track on Molecules to Moons is the haunting "Evalina" which bears a trace of Air's "Playground Love" in its sound even if it probably truly owes a bigger debt to Jeff Lynne's work with the Electric Light Orchestra.
Molecules to Moons from Wilding is one of the most pleasant surprises of a summer full of pleasant surprises for astute listeners. Buoyantly tuneful and wildly melodic, this collection of songs is sure to please fans of Super Furry Animals. If not as exuberantly experimental as the Furries once were, Justin Wilding Stokes is every bit as interesting and lyrical in his work as those Welsh legends. Somehow by moving so far away from his Liverpool roots Wilding has rediscovered them 'cause for every moment here that recalls the Furries from Wales there's another that pays tribute to Liverpudlian McCartney's solo stuff. These are small, intimate tunes dressed up as big ballads with clever and subtle instrumentation carrying them aloft. Expertly produced and performed, Molecules to Moons shows the tremendous promise and potential of Mr. Stokes. He may be thousands of miles away, but his heart is clearly in Liverpool, with an ear cocked towards Wales.