The lo-fi recordings Lee Caldwell makes under the name Weird White Wolves tread a line between self-loathing bedroom confessionals and experimental avant-folk. He shows comfort and dexterity with both forms on Nothing, his first release since 2013's Garden EP, though the best moments of this eight-song release push the sad-sack strummers into the violet hour.
Caldwell doesn't waste time introducing himself and his art on this album, as opening track "Outsider" is as unsettling as it is intriguing. Caldwell quavers his vocals in a ghoulish falsetto as his lyrics seek companionship in a nearly repellant delivery. It's a knowing juxtaposition by one who sees himself as an outsider, perhaps, though that little bit of Ariel Pink-esque theater isn't repeated on the rest of the album. A few interludes -- the spoken-word rumination "Boring" and the Casio-mashing "1224am" -- keep the avant-garde spirit alive.
At their barest, and at first glance, these songs are lazily strummed and delivered in a mewling manner -- when your fratty college roommate made fun of your Elliott Smith CDs, this is what he had in mind -- and a few too many times, Caldwell lets this format sap otherwise serviceable songs. "Cove" plods along with a tempo set by an ancient, no-frills drum machine, though an overdubbed classical guitar solo suggests that, like all good navel-gazers, Lee Caldwell has spent some time with another L.C. -- Leonard Cohen.
Despite the modest trappings, it's an incomplete assessment of Weird White Wolves to look at it solely as a guy-and-guitar project. Caldwell's modest tweaks and production choices are not bracingly experimental, but they serve to add an interesting element to his music. The discordant intonations on his acoustic guitar seem to fray and detune over time on the dirge-like "Childish Things." The simple, reverberant recording unspools itself as sonar plinks sound in the distance and a found-sound clip intones with stentorian authority in the song's final breaths.
A distant snare and some dreamy ambiance add weight to the next song, "KOTR," as Caldwell professes his love and desperation while wearing the crown of "the king of the rats." Trade the acoustic guitar for proto-punk and these songs would be kissing cousins with the first Modern Lovers LP, all righteous dejection and starry-eyed projections.
That naivete spills over into much of this album, from the searching, journal-derived lyrics to the simple chord progressions. Caldwell may very well be the outsider he claims at the album's outset, but the best bits on Nothing are evidence that very little here was accidental or unplanned.
Listen to the album below:
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