J.WLSN ~ 1993

J.WLSN 1993 Album Cover

We may be living in the era of pandemic records for a while yet. J.WLSN’s 1993 is another entry into the canon but it’s one which, although a product of the artist’s extended stay in Australia’s lockdowns, resonates far beyond the conditions of its emergence.

1993 is really more of a collaboration: Room40 label head, musician, and producer Lawrence English condensed nearly four hours of recordings he received from Wilson into 1993’s 40-minute run-time.

The music on the album emerges from the depths, not really of sound but of memory. It has the quality of distance, of fuzziness. It’s all soft edges and space, its woozy, warped sounds threaten persistently to disappear. Wilson works a lot with obsolete technologies, and the aural specificity of the medium of the cassette tape is a particularly important sonic texture and organizational structure on this album.  His liner notes tell the story of a walk with his son and the discovery of a set of cassette tapes the two went on to dismantle together. The loops and samples culled from those tapes formed the basis of the tracks on the album, samples on which he layers piano, electric guitar, modular synthesis, and a variety of other effects, samples, and loops.

There’s a quality on a track such as the titular track of ‘listening for.’ A gauzy gently trembling loop provides the harmonic foundation for an electric guitar’s hesitantly thrummed melody. The track’s warmness results in part from the softness of the production as well as from the warped quality of the sounds themselves, the way in which their edges are cut off, lost in the folds of mechanical sound and decay.  It’s an effect present in other less melodic tracks such as the following “We should be kind, while there is still time,” which trades narrative for a more comforting wash of gentle distortion and the regular interruption of a delicate signal.

The song titles gesture to the variety of ways in which we engage with memory and emotion, something one imagines Wilson having endless time to contemplate as he played with his instruments and machines.  They move between specificity, “1993” or “Counting to Ten,” and generality, “Brood” or “Brief Associations.” The back and forth is mirrored in the organization of the album itself.  Although the individual works on 1993 are all the product of improvisation, the composition of the album itself seems decidedly considered.  Tracks alternate between more melodically driven pieces such as “1993” and “Walking with Stilts,” and those more driven by extended drone such as the foreboding sound of “Brood” or the melancholy of “We should be kind…”

On the album’s opening track, “All my friends and family,” a pensive piano melody loops as a record scrapes and skips.  New recordings interrupt as though one were searching the radio waves, picking up muffled voices, snippets of songs, and the recurrence of an original melody that slows before it is lost again.  The track ends with a vibrating pulse and a slow fade as the sounds are lost entirely.  It’s a melancholy opening which perhaps best encapsulates the fleetingness of moments and their memory, something sound is oh so suited for representing. (Jennifer Smart)

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