Tuesday, December 5, 2017

Into The Blue Sky: A Quick Review Of The New Album From Craig Wedren (ex-Shudder To Think)

A couple of years ago when Scott Crawford asked me to write 4 brief band bios for his Salad Days companion book, Spoke: Images and Stories from the 1980s Washington, DC Punk Scene (Akashic Books), I jumped at the chance. When one of the groups assigned to me was Shudder to Think, I got extremely nervous. How on earth was I gonna adequately summarize these D.C. legends in just a page? Never mind their history in this city, the band's complicated and oddly beautiful brand of post-punk was something that seemed to exist outside of easy era histories and genre descriptions. And a lot of what made the near-glam rock and art pop presentation of Shudder to Think such a unique proposition was thanks to charismatic front-man Craig Wedren.

Wedren has kept busy with a whole lot of projects, namely soundtracks, since the dissolution of Shudder to Think and he's now in what sounds like a comfortable place in his recording life, if one can judge such a thing from a few listens to his haunting new record, Adult Desire. Out Friday, the album is full of simple, stark, and affecting alt-rock that brings a near-classical sense of execution to what's on offer here. "I Am A Wolf, You Are The Moon" yields a few casual nods to the sort of electronic pop most listeners will be familiar with from Hail To The Thief-era Radiohead, even if Wedren is a good deal more deliberate and direct than Yorke and co. ever were. As the bleeps and pops smooth out, the music swells with layers of keyboards and backing vocals carrying Wedren forward. The effect is an emotional and nearly-transcendent one as a listener is hearing a performer seeking to touch the heart, rather than obfuscate for the sake of obfuscation. Wedren is, as always, making Art-with-a-capital "A", but he remains remarkably unpretentious about his task. In other hands, this sort of thing would be willfully obscure and unnecessarily complicated. However, as the shiver-inducing waves of "Be A Man" indicate, Wedren is pushing emotional buttons, and not just intellectual ones.

In other spots on Adult Desire, Wedren pursues neo-folk (the sample-touched "Join The Zoo / Live Again"), or the sort of piano ballads that suggest a blend of Tim Buckley and Eighties Bowie ("Genies"). And, ultimately, the ex-Shudder to Think singer essays a style that is as simple and unaffected as his previous band's work was busy and complicated. Near the end of the album, "Into The Blue Sky" ushers forth one of Wedren's loveliest melodies wrapped up in a largely subtle electronic treatment that seems far closer to something from Philip Glass than it does to anything from Dischord Records. A listen to the title cut here on Adult Desire, for instance, or "I Am A Soldier", reveals a sort of foundational rock, the simplest of forms ornamented with bits and pieces of other instruments, brief samples, or electro-pop textures, and yet this ornamentation never extends to the point where the material itself is in danger of being overwhelmed. The hooks here on Adult Desire remain strong and sharp, with Wedren less interested in obvious flourishes than he is in the general mood of the piece, or the intended overall effect.

A record that's thoroughly easy to love, Adult Desire offers up all the obvious loveliness and modern sheen of any soundtrack recording from Craig Wedren, without the burden of being wed to another work. A genuine classicist, Wedren here combines, as always, Bowie's appreciative sense of the theatrical with Eno's ear for musical perfection. Surprisingly affecting in spots, Adult Desire is one of Craig Wedren's best solo releases and a rewarding record for astute listeners, be they fans of the glory days of harDCore or not. Wedren has with Adult Desire grown into something larger than his past material, even as he straddles a line between making serious Art and delivering direct indie-pop.

Adult Desire is out on Friday via the usual real world retailers, and online vendors, including Dischord Records and other outlets.

More details on Craig Wedren are available via his official Facebook page, or his official website.

[Photo: Uncredited promotional pic from CraigWedren.com]