Wolftron – Flesh and Fears
Release Date: May 6, 2008
Record Label: Eyeball Records
Let me be honest – I am far from a fan of Daphne Loves Derby. To me, they have always been the poor man’s Copeland, and the one time I saw them live, it was a complete and absolute snoozefest. So, it is fair to say that I approached DLD frontman Kenny Choi’s solo effort with some trepidation (a name like Wolftron of course does little to ease these concerns). When I am wrong, though, I am more than happy to admit it, and here is certainly one of those times. Wolftron’s debut record is impossibly gorgeous – engaging in a way that will appeal to both fans and critics of Choi’s other work.
The problem with Daphne Loves Derby’s music, in my mind, is that it tries so hard to keep this quiet sense of beauty (even in more rock-oriented numbers), but never really ends up doing so in the way that Aaron Marsh and company so deftly pull it off. So really, what we get, are a bunch of tunes that just, well, sound kind of boring and lack a whole lot of underlying appeal. There are indeed exceptions, like the blissfully reflective “Debussie,” but these moments tend to be in the minority. While a prevalent issue on Goodnight, Witness Light and On the Strength of All Convinced, there are no such weak points on Flesh and Fears, as the entire album is just really, really good.
Recorded in humble settings, Flesh and Fears could have come across as being completely amateur-ish if not handled with proper care. In the myspace generation, this is always a concern, but here, Choi proves himself a bit of a renaissance man – writing, playing, and recording with copious amounts of skill. From the rolling intro of “Crystal Skulls” and its booming drum kicks tucked neatly under acoustic strums and cleanly arranged vocal tracks, skeptics will promptly do a double-take, as their minds open up to the type of experience this record is. A good thing, as subsequent tracks are quite the treat. Choi dabbles in the jazzier side of things with “Ms. Luna Grim” and shows patience on the drawn out, breathy vocals of “Blueberry Waves,” but he really hits his stride on “Stones,” one of Flesh and Fears’ best tracks. A sparse exercise rooted in sparkling acoustic guitar notes and Choi’s plaintive, honest delivery, “Stones” is the sort of song that can hit you hard and make its listening an experience. I still remember the first time I heard the tune, driving to work in a light rain. As cheesy as it sounds, it was a perfect moment, where the music seemed tailor-made to that moment in my life, and it made me think how much I just wanted to skip the office and revel in that moment all day. Experiences that powerful are scarce in music, and are truly the mark of a wise artist and expert offering.
The record rolls on quite smoothly from there, getting high marks for the classically-infused “Happiness” and the album’s greatest cut, “Sugar Skulls” (take that, Envy on the Coast!). The perfect soundtrack to the warm, sunny days in the prime of spring, “Skulls” runs with arguably the best melody Choi has written in his career, making for one of those rare songs that somehow never seems to grow old. A solid ‘A+’ likewise goes out for the very Rookie of the Year-ish “Provocations of Starman Jr.” Starting off small and timid, the piece gracefully crescendos into full swing two minutes in, and hangs high with driving percussion and vocal arrangements that would sound right at home on The Goodnight Moon.
Beyond just being beautiful to listen to, perhaps what gives Flesh and Fears its wings is how downright cohesive it manages to stay. I suppose that this is the benefit of doing everything with a single set of hands, but it is noteworthy nevertheless, considering how disjointed and scattered some solo offerings can be. Some tracks are undoubtedly better than others, but there is not a single track of this album that requires skipping over. Vocally, Choi’s range is nothing to write home about, but even things as small as his breathing lend to great execution of his melodies, and really gives the singing a true sense of fit within the context of the compositions. Similarly, the instrumentation at hand is far from flashy, but the package comes together nicely, and sounds great in its final form.
Overall, it is hard to see Flesh and Fears as anything less than a great record. It is a little over a half hour of standout tunes and memorable songscapes, and has really made me a believer in Choi’s work as a whole. In fact, it might just make me revisit and potentially reconsider my previously held stance on Daphne Loves Derby. Given where I was before listening to this LP, I would say that very idea cements this as a success.
DLD has always been sort of a hit or miss type of band for me, they've had a decent song here or there but their albums usually end up putting me to sleep. This review, a great and well written one btw, has me intrigued. I think I'll give this record a shot.