Wise and Foolish Builders – Sleight of Hand

Wise and Foolish Builders
Sleight of Hand

Some bands have it, some don’t. Wise and Foolish Builders definitely have it. The “it” I’m referring to is the knack for smart songwriting. Sleight of Hand is WAFB’s freshman release (which is hard to believe when listening to this nine-track album) and definitely has this so called “it.” The melodies, the instrumentation, the songwriting all sound like they were created and performed by professional, major-label musicians. Which is why it’s even harder to believe that this album is self-released.
Wise and Foolish Builders’ music is primarily piano-driven, chock full of orchestral flourishes and air-tight rhythm accompaniment. The overall intensity of the music rests in a comfortable spot between loud and soft – an adequate volume for relaxing, but not so much that you will drift off to sleep. By default, the easiest comparison can be directed toward Ben Folds Five, with Wilco and Remy Zero waiting on the sidelines.
Ben Smith (not to be confused with Ben Folds) is the vocalist and pianist (not to be confused with penis). His voice is like a blend between Thom Yorke and Jeff Tweedy. When it comes to WAFB, melodies seem to be the primary concern; the songs rely heavily on the vocals (both melody and lyrics), as each track is primarily built around the lyrical content. And if Smith stops singing, you can be assured that a horn or stringed instrument will takes its place.
Each song is a symphony of uplifting moods and beautiful arrangements: carefree, light-hearted, and incredibly relaxing. From bells and strings, to pedal steel and guitar, the music is so thick and fat that it goes straight to your thighs. And not only is the arrangements incredibly affective within the tracks themselves, but also affective as a cohesive whole, as each song seamlessly blends into the next. In short, WAFB has the ability to see the big picture, where not many groups in this stage of their career can easily say that.
One of the stronger tracks is the opening song, “Hidden Track,” which features a sweet, head-nodding rhythm. The track is replete with lush harmonies and staccato tinkling, foreshadowing the lush music to come. Elsewhere, “Nation of Vipers” proves most visceral, with a light-hearted first half, later segueing into a moody outro. The rest of the album is similar in style to these two songs, with minor additions and subtractions.
But like most melody-driven albums with tight instrumentation, the amount of originality and freshness is lost somewhere between the vitriolic lyrics and the verse-chorus-verse structure. It’s safe to say that this album would not fare too well in an elitist, snobby neighborhood, but modern pop radio and people yearning for strong songwriting and talented musicians would eat this up like a Monster Burger at Hardees. At times sophisticated, at times exciting, and at times brilliantly constructed, Wise and Foolish Builders has just built a suitable foundation on which to create a solid career.