Homogeneity with Off-Beats
Seattle-based musician Jen Wood got her young start at age fifteen with the rock group Tattle Tale. Since stepping out on her own, Wood solidified her place in the indie rock scene with seven solo albums. Her newest album, Wilderness, combines vocals, drums and piano for a solid new output.
Though every song has its own merits, they all sound so similar. That being said, Wilderness is best listened to in small doses.
Wood’s ability as a musician is not in dispute. Her vocal quality excels particularly in her mid-low register where it is richest, yet she commands a higher, breathier tone where appropriate. On tracks like “In the End,” Wood’s voice evokes the tone of a music box, a higher pitch to compliment the floating nature of the song.
Instrumentally, the prominent use of piano adds a refreshing sound to a genre typically dominated by drums and guitar. On tracks such as “Mind Wars (Red Shoes),” the piano dominates the intro and a driving two-note pattern later carries the song to its conclusion. On top of this, additional choir voices layer in on many tracks, like “Where Real Love Is,” to further spice up a song’s sound.
Off-beat rhythm patterns, ambiguous meter and pervasive use of drum rims and hi-hat are also a welcome feature across the album. The pattern played on the rim of the drums in “Where Real Love Is” gives interest and movement to an otherwise stagnant song. In “Believe Me,” the rhythm and meter is obscured, despite the presence of drums, demonstrating Wood’s command and obfuscation of traditional musical patterns.
The lyrics of Wilderness come across as fairly straightforward, and sometimes a little too repetitive, but it works on “No Way Out.” After all, going in circles textually complements the title. Wood sings, “It’s in the air / It’s in the water / It’s in the air / It’s in your heart / It’s in the air / It’s in the water / It’s in your mind,” and later in the track, “No Way Out” again and again. However, this same repetitive device of the phrase, “you forgot” extensively on a track called “Run To Me” suggests perhaps a lack of lyrical creativity.
Whether it’s the slightly ethereal quality of “I Never Thought” or the more straight-ahead rock style of “Fell In Love”–the strongest track on the album– Wilderness as a whole sounds so similar, nothing really sticks out. Each individual song has great moments and demonstrates solid musicianship, but Wood’s latest contribution to the indie rock scene is best experienced shuffled between other tunes. Otherwise the homogeneity of the album experienced all at once can be a little exhausting.