Josiah Wolf steps out of the long shadow cast by WHY? band mate (and younger brother) Yoni Wolf with Jet Lag, an emotive and catchy solo debut. Wolf eschews the stream-of-consciousness vérité of his brother for a more straight-forward approach en route to what is an early contender for album of the year. An expansive canvas of guitar, kalimba, bass, Hammond organ, bells and drums crescendo and fall over twelve brilliantly-arranged tracks.
Many wondered if the release would sound like another WHY? album with a different frontman, but multi-instrumentalist Wolf clearly has his own auteristic approach outside of the band. Songs like “Is The Body Hung” and “In The Seam” excel through excellent writing and understated psychedelia. Though it is a great departure from the WHY? sound, Jet Lag certainly shares the mellow, melancholy aesthetic of last year’s Eskimo Snow. Themes of love, death, and failure lurk behind every autumnal note on the album.
While not immediately endearing, Wolf’s voice has its hooks in you by the second listen. And like the move from California back to Ohio that inspired much of Jet Lag, the path to finding that voice was a journey in itself. Wolf took vocal lessons in secret and taught himself Silver Jews songs on the guitar in 2006. Further mastering of his craft took place in the solitude of a Berlin graveyard in the downtime of a WHY? tour some years back. The result is a modern psych-folk Neil Young, with a genuine knack for song structure and melody. The lo-fi simplicity of “The Trailer And The Truck” grabs your attention and doesn’t let go until “The One Sign” fades into static.
Though deeply depressing in content at times, Jet Lag is an undeniably catchy record. It paints an intimate portrait of the dissolution of an 11 year relationship and the pangs of letting go. Wolf’s storytelling shifts from the tangible minutiae of separation (“I couldn’t sell the bed / So I put it up for free”) to abstract musings (“Heaven help me / are just words / that time / will make you say”) as he searches for closure and answers amidst the ruins.
While time will tell if Jet Lag falls in the pantheon of classic break-up records alongside Beck’s Sea Change and Bob Dylan’s Blood On The Tracks, it is an undeniably impressive and welcome addition to the increasingly-diverse anticon catalog. Wolf’s elastic compositions straddle the line between a multitude of genres without making it sound forced. Widely respected as one of the best drummers on the indie scene for years, Josiah Wolf has deftly proven he has the chops to stand on his own.
Song you’ll remember in five years: “Gravity Defied”
Line you’ll remember in five years: “The way we communicate makes me feel like a snake / You try to crush my head and I try to strike your leg” (from “The New Car”).