Originally released in 2000, Discover Worlds of Wonder is the first in Kyle Field’s self-described “Wonder Trilogy”, the later installments of which (The Wonder City and Wondervue) have already been or will be reissued by K. Now, admittedly, the idea of such a trilogy sounds awfully wide-eyed and precious, like something Raffi might have come up with. But one shouldn’t be scared off by this pretense, which leaves no particular trace on this album, at least, a nicely varied collection of ruminations, declarations, and sound experiments executed by way of simple, nearly elegiac piano and guitar playing (simple lines, occasionally jazzy phrasings, melancholy blends of major and minor chords).
Not suprisingly, Field’s music sounds a lot like his K compatriots Mirah, the Microphones, and Karl Blau, sharing with them a no-nonsense simplicity that conveys both warmth and artistic integrity. And with his wavering croon and his spare instrumentation, he also superficially resembles Will Oldham, but it’s hard to imagine two worldviews more diametrically opposed. Oldham seems to exist in a hermetically sealed bubble of self-imposed isolation, sending forth his songs like epistles from the slough of despond; their power lies in the tension between their studied calm and the omnipresent misery they comprehend, they offer an opportunity to commune with that kind of depression without necessarily sharing it, and to derive comfort from the sense we get of how far we are from that abyss. Also, Oldham typically seems to inhabit a character; he seems, finally, a storyteller working in a crypto-Appalachian idiom. But Field works in a more Whitmanesque vein, inviting listeners to share the kind of open-ended, inclusive consciousness he stakes out, exploring the possibilities of integration rather than alienation.
In his songwriting, here and on later Little Wings albums, Field tends to sing largely in the first person and in the future tense, which is evident from just the song titles: “I Won’t Be Burned”, “To Bee Who I’ll Bee”, “Tonight I Will Fight”. This approach has some clear ramifications. Obviously it makes the songs very forward-looking and hopeful, as they confidently project a concrete self, one we are led to believe is Field himself and not some poetic device (on “Even Grey Hair Gets Blue” he even refers to himself by name) into the future, comfortably assuming that introspective insights may be immediately translated into constructive assertions. Despite the screen the one-man-band name provides, Field seems anxious to project a strong sense of an actual concrete living, breathing person behind the music, to give an organic feeling to the recorded music, which generally can seem like reified product these days, particularly with the increasing organization of the pop music industry and the utter eradication for the most part of local music scenes. This organic sensibility gives songs like “The Shredder” and “Airport in Your Heart” a casual, inclusive feel, even when they are a touch obscure. And on the wistful, melancholy “Sand Canyon”, the sense of presence becomes almost overwhelming, and the place he describes so lovingly becomes almost as palpable as the fragility in his voice.
But Discover Worlds of Wonder is not one long joyous journey. Taking a strategy from Neil Young (whose music provides another good reference point generally), Field begins and ends this record with songs with the same title, “I Won’t Be Burned”. But whereas Young will do one acoustic and one electric, Field recasts the lyrics to have the later one correct the hubristic optimism of the first, suggesting a somewhat surprising thematic trajectory for someone typically viewed as a naive neo-hippie. The emotional complexity equates to an emotional richness, and supplies a resiliency to a record that might otherwise become bland and flavorless after its sweetness inevitably wears off. That Little Wings seem optimistic without seeming unrealistic might be their most significant accomplishment.
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// Notes from the Road
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