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
Music

The 60 Best Albums of 2007

From tech house to Radiohead and Americana to indie and everything in between, the 60 best albums of 2007 included many of the 2000s' best albums.

Love in the Time of Coronavirus

Solitude Stands in the Window: Thoreau's 'Walden'

Henry David Thoreau's Walden as a 19th century model for 21st century COVID-19 quarantine.

Love in the Time of Coronavirus

Will COVID-19 Kill Movie Theaters?

Streaming services and large TV screens have really hurt movie theaters and now the coronavirus pandemic has shuttered multiplexes and arthouses. The author of The Perils of Moviegoing in America, however, is optimistic.

Gary D. Rhodes, Ph.D
Television

Fleabag's Hot Priest and Love as Longing

In season two of Fleabag, The Priest's inaccessibility turns him into a sort of god, powerful enough for Fleabag to suddenly find herself spending hours in church with no religious motivation.

Music

Annabelle's Curse's 'Vast Oceans' Meditates on a Groundswell of Human Emotions (premiere)

Inspired by love and life, and of persistent present-day issues, indie folk band Annabelle's Curse expand their sound while keeping the emotive core of their work with Vast Oceans.

Music

Americana's Sarah Peacock Finds Beauty Beneath Surface With "Mojave" (premiere + interview)

Born from personal pain, "Mojave" is evidence of Sarah Peacock's perseverance and resilience. "When we go through some of the dry seasons in our life, when we do the most growing, is often when we're in pain. It's a reminder of how alive you really are", she says.

Television

Power Struggle in Beauty Pageants: On 'Mrs. America' and 'Miss Americana'

Television min-series Mrs. America and Taylor Swift documentary Miss Americana make vivid how beauty pageants are more multi-dimensional than many assume, offering a platform to some (attractive) women to pursue higher education, politics, and more.

Hilary Levey Friedman
Music

Pere Ubu 'Comes Alive' on Their New, Live Album

David Thomas guides another version of Pere Ubu through a selection of material from their early years, dusting off the "hits" and throwing new light on some forgotten gems.

Music

Woods Explore Darkness on 'Strange to Explain'

Folk rock's Woods create a superb new album, Strange to Explain, that mines the subconscious in search of answers to life's unsettling realities.

Music

The 1975's 'Notes on a Conditional Form' Is Laudably Thought-Provoking and Thrilling

The 1975 follow A Brief Inquiry... with an even more intriguing, sprawling, and chameleonic song suite. Notes on a Conditional Form shows a level of unquenchable ambition, creativity, and outspoken curiosity that's rarely felt in popular music today.

Music

Dustbowl Revival's "Queen Quarantine (A Home Recording)" Is a Cheeky Reproach of COVID-19 (premiere)

Inspired by John Prine, Dustbowl Revival's latest single, "Queen Quarantine (A Home Recording)", approaches the COVID-19 pandemic with wit and good humor.

Books

The 2020 US Presidential Election Is Going to Be Wild but We've Seen Wild Before

Americans are approaching a historical US presidential election in unprecedented times. Or are they? Chris Barsanti's The Ballot Box: 10 Presidential Elections That Changed American History gives us a brief historical perspective.

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.