PopMatters is moving to WordPress. We will publish a few essays daily while we develop the new site. We hope the beta will be up sometime late next week.

Little Wings: Wonderue

Patrick Schabe

Little Wings


Label: K
US Release Date: 2002-04-02
UK Release Date: Available as import

I'm going to be brave and shoot my credibility as a reviewer in the foot by saying I simply don't like Bob Dylan. Oh, don't get me wrong, I marvel at and appreciate the man's place at the center of cultural change in the 1960s. I recognize his importance as a musician, and I think he's among the most gifted and poetic songwriters to have come out of the 20th century. But, within the limited field of exposure I have to the Dylan catalog, other musicians play his songs better than he does. I'd rather hear the Indigo Girls perform "Tangled Up in Blue" over Bobby any day. For that matter, I don't think Dylan should have won his recent Oscar, either, but we all know what the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences has become.

This only has peripheral relevance to Little Wings at best, but it's a necessary disclaimer. You see, Little Wings is the moniker of Kyle Field, a singer-songwriter who in the best possible way could be described as "Dylanesque". Field has an incredible gift for lyricism. His imagery is visceral, slightly surreal, and rich. Both simple and complex rhyme schemes are handled with what seems like fluid ease. Musically, Little Wings operates as a collective of guest musicians, but even then there's a sparse transparency to the sounds and the listener's focus remains squarely on Field.

But then there's Field's voice. Simultaneously rough and fragile, twangy and spare, it takes some getting used to. And, like Dylan, that voice's delivery can get in the way of the songs. From the moment "Filled with Wonder" cues up on the stereo, the warbling, often off-key voice of Kyle Field draws you like a car-wreck. You don't want to listen, it's almost painful, but it's also strangely compelling. When he's taking it easy and settling into his own range, he sounds too much like Dave Matthews to make an impression. When his voice reaches for a high note and comes just short of cracking completely, you think you might be listening to a junior high talent show gone horribly wrong. The extremely low-fi production doesn't help.

But that's all part of Field's experiment in music. This Oregon via California artist has built the Little Wings experience on combining a rootsy, alt-country twang with some folksy, neo-hippie logic. The "band" is merely a collection of friends, assembled to perform on different tracks, and Field goes to some lengths to portray himself as the kind of guy you'd find strumming his guitar in a park along the beach. Or, perhaps more accurately, as a rough and tumble street musician composing odd ditties with his hat upturned on the sidewalk to collect change. And he pulls it off. Almost too well.

The shame of this is that some of these songs are pure gems. The most immediately charming track is "Shredder Sequel", a tune that resurrects a character called the Shredder who appeared in a song of the same name on the first Little Wings album, Discover Worlds of Wonder. On the first album, the Shredder was a skateboarding legend, revered for his abilities with a board. But here, on Wonderue, we find the Shredder some years later, a burnout who still clings vainly to his past glories and cries at night in the realization that he's living in the past, and his street fame was worn out completely. It's a sad song, to be sure, but not a little bit funny as well. It also tells the story of a aged scenester in such honest and sympathetic detail that the Shredder moves beyond the boundaries of the skatepark and becomes an icon of all burnouts. In short, it's witty and insightful and touching all at once.

Immediately following "Shredder Sequel" is the fabulous "When You Know Love", the only entry on Wonderue that completely deviates from the guitar format. Trip-hop inspired, the musical track consists primarily of an excellent bass line and a simple drum machine track, with flourishes of jazzy vibes. Vocally, Field sounds like a country boy flexing his flow, but he really shines here. The lyrics on this track display Field's way with imagery and continuity of language. It's a song that could easily appeal to fans of Soul Coughing, G Love and Special Sauce, and Portishead in equal numbers.

But things aren't 100% for this disc. Much of the time, the extremely mellow and languid voice of Field is so hypnotic that it's hard to really pay attention to the songs. Tracks like "Filled With Wonder", "Faith Children", "Treat It Kind", "Si Si", and "I Saw Reflections" have both musically interesting and lyrically compelling moments aplenty. But, unfortunately, these songs all come in the first half of the album. By the time Wonderue closes with "So I Finally Belong to the Night", you're waking yourself from the sleepy lull and wondering where time and the other songs have gone.

Wonderue represents the culmination of "the Wonder Triolgy", three consecutive albums from Field that deal with various aspects of the notion of wonder. As a triptych, Wonderue is the closing moment, and thus lends itself to falling action, but that doesn't save it from having to stand on its own. Field has already announced the release of another album, Light Green Leaves, slated for a September release, so it may be that now that the "Wonder" project is completed, he's ready to move into new territory. That would be a good thing, for at the least Wonderue continues to highlight Field's presence as a great songwriter. Hopefully, some future musicians will discover these albums and release some lovely (and perhaps superior) cover tunes.

Please Donate to Help Save PopMatters

PopMatters have been informed by our current technology and hosting provider that we have less than a month, until November 6, to move PopMatters off their service or we will be shut down. We are moving to WordPress and a new host, but we really need your help to save the site.





Laura Veirs Talks to Herself on 'My Echo'

The thematic connections between these 10 Laura Veirs songs and our current situation are somewhat coincidental, or maybe just the result of kismet or karmic or something in the zeitgeist.


15 Classic Horror Films That Just Won't Die

Those lucky enough to be warped by these 15 classic horror films, now available on Blu-ray from The Criterion Collection and Kino Lorber, never got over them.


Sixteen Years Later Wayne Payne Follows Up His Debut

Waylon Payne details a journey from addiction to redemption on Blue Eyes, The Harlot, The Queer, The Pusher & Me, his first album since his 2004 debut.


Every Song on the Phoenix Foundation's 'Friend Ship' Is a Stand-Out

Friend Ship is the Phoenix Foundation's most personal work and also their most engaging since their 2010 classic, Buffalo.


Kevin Morby Gets Back to Basics on 'Sundowner'

On Sundowner, Kevin Morby sings of valleys, broken stars, pale nights, and the midwestern American sun. Most of the time, he's alone with his guitar and a haunting mellotron.


Lydia Loveless Creates Her Most Personal Album with 'Daughter'

Given the turmoil of the era, you might expect Lydia Loveless to lean into the anger, amplifying the electric guitar side of her cowpunk. Instead, she created a personal record with a full range of moods, still full of her typical wit.


Flowers for Hermes: An Interview with Performing Activist André De Shields

From creating the title role in The Wiz to winning an Emmy for Ain't Misbehavin', André De Shields reflects on his roles in more than four decades of iconic musicals, including the GRAMMY and Tony Award-winning Hadestown.


The 13 Greatest Horror Directors of All Time

In honor of Halloween, here are 13 fascinating fright mavens who've made scary movies that much more meaningful.


British Jazz and Soul Artists Interpret the Classics on '​Blue Note Re:imagined'

Blue Note Re:imagined provides an entrance for new audiences to hear what's going on in British jazz today as well as to go back to the past and enjoy old glories.


Bill Murray and Rashida Jones Add Another Shot to 'On the Rocks'

Sofia Coppola's domestic malaise comedy On the Rocks doesn't drown in its sorrows -- it simply pours another round, to which we raise our glass.


​Patrick Cowley Remade Funk and Disco on 'Some Funkettes'

Patrick Cowley's Some Funkettes sports instrumental renditions from between 1975-1977 of songs previously made popular by Donna Summer, Herbie Hancock, the Temptations, and others.


The Top 10 Definitive Breakup Albums

When you feel bombarded with overpriced consumerism disguised as love, here are ten albums that look at love's hangover.


Dustin Laurenzi's Natural Language Digs Deep Into the Jazz Quartet Format with 'A Time and a Place'

Restless tenor saxophonist Dustin Laurenzi runs his four-piece combo through some thrilling jazz excursions on a fascinating new album, A Time and a Place.


How 'Watchmen' and 'The Boys' Deconstruct American Fascism

Superhero media has a history of critiquing the dark side of power, hero worship, and vigilantism, but none have done so as radically as Watchmen and The Boys.


Floodlights' 'From a View' Is Classicist Antipodal Indie Guitar Pop

Aussie indie rockers, Floodlights' debut From a View is a very cleanly, crisply-produced and mixed collection of shambolic, do-it-yourself indie guitar music.


CF Watkins Embraces a Cool, Sophisticated Twang on 'Babygirl'

CF Watkins has pulled off the unique trick of creating an album that is imbued with the warmth of the American South as well as the urban sophistication of New York.


Helena Deland Suggests Imagination Is More Rewarding Than Reality on 'Something New'

Canadian singer-songwriter Helena Deland's first full-length release Someone New reveals her considerable creative talents.


While the Sun Shines: An Interview with Composer Joe Wong

Joe Wong, the composer behind Netflix's Russian Doll and Master of None, articulates personal grief and grappling with artistic fulfillment into a sweeping debut album.

Collapse Expand Reviews

Collapse Expand Features

PM Picks
Collapse Expand Pm Picks

© 1999-2020 PopMatters.com. All rights reserved.
PopMatters is wholly independent, women-owned and operated.