In 2013, Nathan Toben was the front man for up-and-comers Toddlers. The band made two excellent albums, an EP and a full-length, and the acclaim for Toddlers was starting to stretch beyond its native North Carolina. But for Toben, the increased public attention added to depressive episodes and bouts of paranoia. Rather than let creativity run him down—this being, of course, one of our great and crushing myths around artists—Toben left the band and looked for a way to make music that could help him rather than snow him under. Toben’s solution comes in his excellent new solo project, Weller. He wrote, recorded, and mixed I in just a little over three months with the help of co-producer Wesley Wolfe and long-time friend Evan Crankshaw.
The songs here break from the dramatic rock of Toddlers into other no-less-grand musical territories. It’s an album that can veer from the tense edges of “Obvious Soul”, which recalls Low-era Bowie, the sweeping lushness of “Lonely Buddy” or “Those Days are Gone”, the stately folk of “Let It Go”, or the off-kilter funk-pop of “Know My Love”. It’s an album that is as catchy as it is deeply intricate and arresting. Toben plays everything here himself, but he sounds for all the world like a musical explorer leading an orchestra of players and sounds into the unknown. He’s in search, too—“Tell me what I need to be a good man,” he sings at one point—but I is the rare, generous album that doesn’t latch on to what is lost but instead focuses on what could be found. It’s an album of discovery, both musical and of the self, and a wonderfully surprising set of songs unafraid to break from genre and convention to find their own corners of the world. So, it seems, has Toben, and on I, it suits him well.