Patrick Wolf – Wind in the Wires

Patrick Wolf
Wind in the Wires

Patrick Wolf is no wunderkind on par with Mozart, mind you, despite what his press materials say. Wolf may have begun dabbling in composition at age 11 in his South London bedroom with a violin, organ, and four-track tape recorder, but did he compose his first aria at age five? No way, that was Mozart, man! Of course, Mozart never built his own Theremin, which wasn’t invented until 1919. Sucks for Mozart. Cool for Patrick Wolf, and by proxy, cool for everyone else lucky enough to hear this tousled-haired South Londoner’s musical output, which by the way rules the (prep) school.

Wind in the Wires is Wolf’s second offering from Tomlab Records, and it faithfully picks up where Lycanthropy left off. Wolf’s traditional folk songs are underpinned by digital dalliances and held together with a stapling of drum machine rigor. At 21, he has the raconteur’s wit of a younger Nick Cave still buoyed by the weightlessness of possibility.

Vocally, Wolf doesn’t floor you, neither does he drill holes in your skull. His plainly plaintive voice can at times swell with emotion or at others growl with furious discontent. Violin and piano both play prominent roles in Wind in the Wires, giving the album that classical bent that only digital chirping and electronic swooshes can artfully pull back into the realm of modernity.

“The Libertine” unravels with a storybook flourish, teetering on gypsy strings. Wolf impassions, “All our heroes lack any conviction / They shout through the bars of cliché and addiction.” The title track emerges through a gust of piano droplets and a digital haze, while criminal horns lurk insidiously beneath the mix. Murk and menace are expertly ballasted by Wolf’s green enthusiasm, which sounds more confusing than it is. But it isn’t trite or tossed off either. Our boy takes the portent of a Connor Oberst and marries it with a heavy dose of classicism bordering on the Victorian.

British heath hopping is abound in “The Railway House,” with its heavy stomp, handclaps, and layered vocal F/X. Wolf’s voice comes bristling off the moor: “Let’s paint these walls and pull up the weeds / And cast our fevers in stone.” “Apparition” takes a page from labelmates the Books with its stop-start string strums and found-sound backgrounds. Fantastic.

And just when you think that you have Patrick Wolf pigeonholed as a British electro-Devandra Banhart, he pulls an ace out of his sleeve with “The Gypsy King.” Bird chirps and female backing vocals whisk willfully along, and Patrick bleats and “Woops!” with youthful exuberance. And then the air is let out of the balloon, marvelously segueing into “This Weather,” a blurry tune that comes into focus around the two-minute mark, punctuated with an angry stomp and Wolf growling about “some dark fortunes circling me.”

Wolf eschews the British schoolboy façade again in “Tristan,” where, as the titular Arthurian character, he barks and moans such epitaphs as, “I’m fucked! And I’m fucking too!” And this is what sets Wolf apart from other wunderkind: his ability to take a crass word, or for that matter a crass world, and dress it up in a cavalier’s clothes.