"I wait for you, baby you'll always be the same / I know you now, baby you're never gonna change," John Wolfington's bluesy voice utters in resignation during "12 mph", the opening track on his self-titled debut album. Waiting....for people to show, for decisions to be made, for dreams to materialize...is what Wolfington's does a lot of in these 10 songs, along with walking around New York City with his eyes open.
To a sparse backdrop of guitar and drums (machine or live), plus bass and piano on some songs, Wolfington plays slow, dreamy, soulful urban folktales about lonely people and the city they inhabit. His songs have the groundedness of a street-savvy rock and roller, the sinisterness of that mysterious fellow lurking in the shadows, and a head-in-the-clouds surrealist bent. The latter emerges on the beautiful “Ageless Sky” (“All I wait for / A taste of sunshine / You flying”). All 10 songs have an inherent sadness to them, and the intimacy of someone sharing his inner thoughts, but Wolfington doesn’t come across as a mope basking in depression for its own sake.
Wolfington lives in Brooklyn, and somehow the album has something essentially NYC about it, perhaps because at least two songs make direct reference to the city. “Great Divide” is a lazy shuffle which finds Wolfington on Broadway, thinking about “the fame and violence”, or maybe “the fame in violence”, or maybe both, I’m not sure. His lyrics’ poetic quality is also found in “Coney Island”, where tells a sad dream-story about the Coney Island freak show.
The musical accompaniment throughout the album (supplied by Wolfington, along with Steve Shelley of Sonic Youth and Tim Foljhan of Two Dollar Guitar) might be sparse, but sets up a mysterious, melancholy mood that persists from song to song. On a few songs the music gets funkier, a little jazzier or, on one trak at least, a bit more experimental, but overall the atmosphere is ponderous, ghostly and, in a downhearted sort of way, quite beautiful.
In the world John Wolfington creates on his fine debut, the world is never exactly happy, but it is peaceful, in that quiet-state-of-mind sort of way. Yet underneath that calm is despair, confusion, anxiety. Even “Race the Sun”, the closest to a love song here, isn’t especially bright: “And darkness will forgive / This ugly place has never looked so fine darkness is your friend / It’s the only thing that never makes you blind.” Here darkness and confusion are omnipresent. Despair only goes away in the quiet, solitary moments, or in the writing of songs as release, I suppose. On John Wolfington’s fine debut he transfers sad, hurt feelings into unique, quietly stunning music that stays with you.