Music

Wax Mannequin Is Keeping Canada Weird

Publicity photo via Bandcamp

Wax Mannequin's latest album Have a New Name gets back to iconoclastic singer/songwriter's roots.

Have a New Name
Wax Mannequin

Coax

28 September 2018

It's becoming accepted in Canada that due to exorbitant rents mass gentrification in Toronto, the nearby city of Hamilton, Ontario is becoming a kind of Brooklyn within the urban sprawl. As the hub of Canada's steel industry on the shores of Lake Ontario, Hamilton has previously been known for its blue-collar rock scene that spawned punk pioneers Teenage Head to current upstarts Arkells and the Dirty Nil.

But where the Brooklyn comparisons come in is Hamilton's weird artistic underbelly, going back to legendary space-rockers Simply Saucer and the pre-U2 collaborations between Daniel Lanois and Brian Eno. You can count Wax Mannequin, aka Christopher Adeney, in that group of Hamilton fringe voices as well. His songs can be, by turns, dark and thoughtful or pounding and ridiculous, yet they always bear the stamp of careful craftsmanship, even when Adeney fully adopts the endearing guise of a barroom philosopher.

All of that is gloriously displayed on the seventh Wax Mannequin album, Have a New Name, the result of Adeney reuniting with producer Edwin Burnett, with whom he made some of the first Wax Mannequin recordings in the early 2000s. Working in a small east-end Hamilton industrial space containing an array of vintage and modern gear, the pair—along with percussionist Mark Raymond—crafted Have a New Name's eight songs out of semi-impromptu sessions that eventually expanded with the addition of grand piano, gamba da viola, double bass, and a 12-piece choir. The end product is the most sonically ambitious Wax Mannequin album to date, and also arguably the most powerful.

As Adeney says, "It was a deeply meaningful experience to reconnect with my old friend Edwin. Without my early collaborations with him, I would not be in music today. The dark, whimsical playfulness that initially drew us together nearly two decades ago still resonates throughout this record."

As an example, Adeney points to the album's closing track "The Longest Hour", an atmospheric travelogue that never lags over the course of its nearly nine minutes. The song's brilliance in infiltrating the mind of a restless wanderer mirrors Adeney's own experiences touring the world in recent years, a primary inspiration for many of the songs on Have a New Name. However, he acknowledges he's struck a balance between his domestic and touring lives, which provides a different kind of tension to his current work.

"Usually melodies come to me during my civilized times—working around the house, shoveling snow, building shelves. I usually write my lyrics when I'm traveling, which I think is reflected in themes of serene self-destruction and transient creative relationships. I wrote 'The Longest Hour' while hauling a rickety cart of gear across Germany, sleepless and a slave to the Bahn-schedule. As a song, it's by no means autobiographical, but the protagonist undergoes a similarly meaningless and life-damaging adventure."

Other songs on Have a New Name such as "Basketball" and "Squirmy Wormy" are rooted in the whimsical component of Adeney and Burnett's creative partnership, while the songs "Someone Fixed the Game" and "People Can Change" display a maturity that signals Wax Mannequin is indeed more than capable of reaching wider audiences without sacrificing any of his edge.

It's a crossroads that all iconoclastic musicians must encounter sooner or later, and Adeney says he never fails to be inspired by artists such as David Byrne, Jason Molina, and Scott Walker in terms of making seemingly incompatible ideas work within a pop context. It's an approach he began to explore a lot more seriously in the wake of the last Wax Mannequin album, 2012's No Safe Home, which earned well-deserved praise for its sparse production and deeply personal lyrics.

While forming his vision for Have a New Name, Adeney drew from the fact that he's been making a singular brand of music for two decades, while simultaneously building a suburban life as, in his words, "one of the neighbourhood guys, albeit a slightly quirky one".

He adds, "I'd describe my musical evolution as moving from audience-alienating, avant-guard weirdness to emotive, good-time art-pop. Music and travel have helped me slowly strip away who I thought I was and have allowed me to find some naked, formless identity again and again. My best performances still come from a selfless, almost meditative space. And my best songs come from deep sleep, mindful breathing and moments of self-immolating frustration."

With Have a New Name, Christopher Adeney has made a Wax Mannequin album utterly necessary for this moment in time. Challenging and earthy, funny and heartbreaking, in search of answers yet rooted in hard-earned wisdom.

Music


Books


Film


Recent
Love in the Time of Coronavirus

Coronavirus and the Culture Wars

Infodemics, conspiracies -- fault lines beneath the Fractured States of America tremble in this time of global pandemic, amplify splinters, fractures, and fissures past and present.

Music

'Switched-On Seeker' Is an Imaginative Electronic Reimagining of Mikal Cronin's Latest LP

Listeners who prefer dense rock/pop timbres will no doubt prefer Mikal Cronin's 'Seeker'. However, 'Switched-On Seeker' will surely delight fans of smaller-scale electronic filters.

Music

IYEARA Heighten the Tension on Remix of Mark Lanegan's "Playing Nero" (premiere)

Britsh trio IYEARA offer the first taste of a forthcoming reworking of Mark Lanegan's Somebody's Knocking with a remix of "Playing Nero".

Music

Pottery Take Us Deep Into the Funky and Absurd on 'Welcome to Bobby's Motel'

With Welcome to Bobby's Motel, Pottery have crafted songs to cleanse your musical pallet and keep you firmly on the tips of your toes.

Music

Counterbalance 23: Bob Dylan - 'Blood on the Tracks'

Bob Dylan makes his third appearance on the Acclaimed Music list with his 1975 album, Blood on the Tracks. Counterbalance’s Eric Klinger and Jason Mendelsohn are planting their stories in the press.

Music

Luke Cissell Creates Dreamy, Electronic Soundscapes on the Eclectic 'Nightside'

Nightside, the new album from composer and multi-instrumentalist Luke Cissell, is largely synthetic and electronic but contains a great deal of warmth and melody.

Music

Bibio Discusses 'Sleep on the Wing' and Why His Dreams Are of the Countryside

"I think even if I lived in the heart of Tokyo, I'd still make music that reminds people of the countryside because it's where my dreams often take me," says Bibio (aka Stephen Wilkinson) of his music and his new rustic EP.

Reading Pandemics

Pandemic, Hope, Defiance, and Protest in 'Romeo and Juliet'

Shakespeare's well known romantic tale Romeo and Juliet, written during a pandemic, has a surprisingly hopeful message about defiance and protest.

Film

A Family Visit Turns to Guerrilla Warfare in 'The Truth'

Catherine Deneuve plays an imperious but fading actress who can't stop being cruel to the people around her in Hirokazu Koreeda's secrets- and betrayal-packed melodrama, The Truth.

Music

The Top 20 Punk Protest Songs for July 4th

As punk music history verifies, American citizenry are not all shiny, happy people. These 20 songs reflect the other side of patriotism -- free speech brandished by the brave and uncouth.

Books

90 Years on 'Olivia' Remains a Classic of Lesbian Literature

It's good that we have our happy LGBTQ stories today, but it's also important to appreciate and understand the daunting depths of feeling that a love repressed can produce. In Dorothy Strachey's case, it produced the masterful Olivia.

Music

Indie Rocker Alpha Cat Presents 'Live at Vox Pop' (album stream)

A raw live set from Brooklyn in the summer of 2005 found Alpha Cat returning to the stage after personal tumult. Sales benefit organizations seeking to end discrimination toward those seeking help with mental health issues.

Reviews
Collapse Expand Reviews

Features
Collapse Expand Features
PM Picks
Collapse Expand Pm Picks

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