There’s a lightness to the touch of Will Fox’s album, Which Way. Acoustic songs whose musical focus leans to the farthest aspects of tenderness; the ten tracks in the sequence sometimes appear to glance over a subject, when they really swim to the center. There is the sense of water colors; depth, frailty, and a softness to the light. All these things are true.
However, like water colors – when left to swirl and spill and drip – there is a certain surrealism to the palette of Will Fox. These are not your typical singer-songwriter elements. Broad passages pass without a definite sense of perspective. There’s a misty otherness as Will Fox pursues his subjects with a kind of spiritual enquiry. But wait, in this case the word ‘spiritual’ is not a dirty one. Fox removes the grandeur of the things which leave him in awe – he climbs into the intimate truths. It’s here, in tight proximity, that he turns questions over in front of us.
Title track, ‘Which Way’ – a question with improper punctuation – is a clear indication of Fox’s playful ability to place himself in the thick of bewilderment. Mind-reading, commitment to the ‘always’, indecision – these are the subjects that Will Fox discusses with the object of his affection. “If I could only understand…” is a line in which the narrator opens himself to vulnerability. “Is that a crack in the wall? Does it matter at all?” is a line in which the narrator recognizes the indifference of details in the big picture. There’s a one-ness to these elements. Understanding doesn’t mean putting labels on things. Understanding, in the sense of this album, means to bring them in as part of the self.
Tyler Karmen produced this album. Tyler Karmen might be a genius. It’s clear that Fox had a vision to make bolder statements when close to the microphone, and so his vocal tracks are handled with reverence without ever being rarified. And like water colors, as things move away from certainty they drop in perspective. There’s a definite, painterly timbre to the sequence. It’s a surreal approach to delivering the goods that distinguishes the album from being just another alt-folk offering, or the product of a songwriter that needs to get stuff off his chest. But wait, these elements are not forced, or made explicit. The truths reveal themself with small sips. Karmen gives things space to happen. Egos are not evidenced. Instead, the material is presented more as something that the collaboration channeled.
Closing track, ‘Down the Road’ allows a little amp buzz. Some incredible finger-picking on an acoustic guitar, and a vocal approach that invites the ear to lean in. Will Fox ponders events that await ahead of him. ‘I can’t deny that this is where I’m going to be.’ he sings, addressing the moment. The moment that is always now, and here.
Will Fox may have experienced confusion, pain, and uncertainty in life – the inspiration behind these songs is so heartfelt, so real, that at times it can feel like we’re listening to a private address between souls. But it’s his default position of compassion that pulls perspective. There’s a level of taoist-like wisdom, not only to this slice of time, but also to the truth that this ending opens a new beginning. That, when we stand far enough back from the scene nothing separates one moment from the next. Nothing divides the hearts or the minds. No subject, no object. Fox may have been confused, he may have suffered great pains – but he has accomplished something of profound beauty.
The work that Will Fox introduced on his Cosmic Dusting EP suggested that whatever he offered next would be a broader, more fleshed-out vision of a very particular kind. What he delivers here is an extraordinary collection of songs, with no dip, no deviation, and no flaw. Excellent as his previous work was; both his solo release, and his contributions to the Los Angeles Police Department, few folk could have been expecting anything as fucking marvelous as this album.
Simply put Which Way is an album of incredible reach. This is a point of reference for alt-folk production, songcraft, and a modern sensibility with a deep affection for tradition.
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