'What's The Time Mr. Wolf'-E.P. Review
(Fly Productionz Ltd./Cygnus Music)
Tormented, dark, daring, and spoiling for a fight...
Release date: March 18th.
If you go out tonight, beware of the Night Wolf...
because they have teeth, and aren't afraid to bite. I suppose in the sense the name is appropriate. It does give a perfect sense of the mood of uncertainty and discourse, lurking within the E.P. 'What's The Time Mr. Wolf'.
Ryan Wilcox is the man behind the wolf. It would be axiomatic to point out that what lurks within the E.P. contains a certain venemous bite to it. Together with Mike Ziegler, A.K.A. Centrist, a taunting mysticism has been unleashed. On Wilcox's ReverbNation page, Night Wolf is described as 'taking simple melodies and building them up to mesmeric proportions'. It goes on to say that if dub-step is not necessarily your thing, to give them a listen.
To be honest, dub-step is not my thing at all. It is down to the current crop to shape your opinion of the genre. My first real exposure to it, was Muse's disastrous attempt to 'experiment' with the form, on their underwhelming album 'The 2nd Law'. Here was a band who hit their peak around the end of 'Black Holes and Revelations', and immediately hit a depressing nadir from which they have not been able to wake from. Bands are entitled to experiment, but in the case of dub-step, it is a tricky thing to get right. I have recently been in communication with Alex Larkham (Katsuo), and was refreshingly surprised by his track 'Stereo Jesus'. This was the first time I had really sat down to listen to a dub-step track, and many of my preconceptions were eradicated. It was assured, bold, experimental, but above all: brilliant. So it was with a dissipated air of caution that I took into the Night Wolf experience.
The first pleasant thing that strikes me when delving into the 5 tracks, is the titles. Many acts go for overused and unambiguous names for song titles, but was instantly compelled by Amor Vincit Omnia. The title actually refers to a painting by the Italian post-mannerist artist Caravaggio, translating to 'love conquers all'. The painting is, a somewhat... controversial piece, and luckily the track is more mannered and incontrovertible. It is instantly insinuating, strings swaying and constricting, a distance beat lurking in the shadows. The teeth marks are already present; as it explodes and trickles, the beat pervading like a metronome, before a brief explosion heralds the transition from classical to dub-step. The strings, sounds and loops weave and merge with one another. It has all the hallmarks of a theme song to a gangster/spy film: brooding, violent and sweating from every pore. The emphasis is on the build-up; the repetition of the sounds, making sure that it is lodged in your head. The track does just that, creating a hypnotic effect that has you drifting off into some rain-lashed fantasy, sirens, streetlights and the smell of smoke in the air. And just like that it ends. The overall effect is one of exhilaration and also quiet reverence. If you are expecting a Skrillex-style romp you may be disappointed. It is more adventurous and cosmopolitan. It does what Muse forgot to do 'Unsustainable': keep it subtle and intelligent, don't bludgeon the audience and be overly heavy-handed, and, crucially, leave you wanting more.
I Fade is next up and leaves no time in punching every single one of your teeth clean out. Apologies to return once more to the Muse well, but this track bears similarities with 'Plug In Baby' 'Assasin' and 'Take A Bow'. The guitar in this track changes from an arpeggio to flamenco style, creating a measured counterpoint to the pulsing electronic beat behind it. There is barely time to absorb this before swooning strings herald Leah's arrival. She puts her powerful range to work, switching between a gorgeous whisper, to swaying modulation, to breathy siren, effortlessly skipping between them. As she repeatedly sings 'in that dance of the fading flame', the tempo and temperature rises as she goes on to add, 'I fade'. Her voice reminds me very much of Aailyah, and has a similar soulful tone to it. It is a brief but memorable turn, and has left me wanting more. The sign of any great track. Aside from the superlative vocal turn, the success of the song lies in the way the sounds are mixed. There is fantastic orchestral passages. The strings are romantic and dramatic, and never overwhelm the senses. The guitar work is impressive and creates moods all by itself. At times it aches, and at others builds up the tension. Everything else, from the electronic sounds to the drums, plays its part. They take you by the scruff of the neck, create the build up, and when Leah is introduced, they accompany and emphasis her voice beautifully. As she departs the guitars come back in and ease us gently down. It is a brilliant track, which provides the second half of a testosterone-fuelled 1-2.
As the light has faded, the moon glows ripe, and the stars stand in line, Hurricane whips up and disturbs the brief calm. It begins with a woozy electronic heartbeat, contracting and deflating like a wave. Just then a vocal arrives. It sounds like the disguised voice of a caller, informing you they have your wife held for ransom. It is Darth Vader in a mood. There is a plunking, before the sound of a feral drum beat. It appears hollow and savage, and accompanied by the oscillating electronic blood flow, creates a darkly vivid sound scape. Strings arrive to quicken the pulse, and create a real sense of a real hurricane. The track relies on effective repetition. The sound arrives, it goes around, and it comes back round again; drawing you in and pulling you back out. Just when you think you are in rough seas, the tempo shifts and all is calm, before once again the trees sway and the rain lashes. The strings are back again, ramping up the volume and producing the metaphysical storm. At under 4 minutes it is quite a short and focused song, and provides just enough tension to exhaust. There are elements of Chase and Status and Skrillex to be found, but also shades of The Chemical Brothers as well. Although not the strongest track, it is probably the most atmospheric and the strongest indication that spectacular things are around the corner.
We're somewhere in the early hours of the morning, and the calming sound of strings, once again arrive to soothe the soul. They creep and trip quietly as a steady beat eases forward. Once again we are then sucked into a riptide, as the atmosphere is smoke-filled and on fire. If you thought you were in for a respite, then thing again. In a way Shallow is a similar, and slightly longer track than Hurricane. Both are infused with a heady blend of orchestra and electronics, using them to great effect to stir, sucker-punch and pull you down. There are again nods to contemporary dub-step in its execution and plot line, but more dramatic and unexpected than all of them put together. I admire the way Night Wolf infuse and blend snatches of sounds. There is a little hip hop here, a teaspoon of rap there, and an aftertaste of classic ambiance. It is also another anthemic song, and could easily be used to score a taut drama, or a commercial.
As it begins to get lighter, and the worst seems to be over, Crossing Europe is here to make everything better. It begins quite curiously. I was immediately reminded of Radiohead's 'Kid A'. It has the same sort of beginning as 'Treenfingers' and 'In Limbo'. It almost has the effect of a lullaby. It is calming and strokes your hair softly. Well... for a few seconds at least. Seems like we may not be on dry land quite yet. There is, what sounds like a sample from an interview by Night Wolf. Before you can squint enough to hear what is being said, a ghostly vocal arrives, backed by a pulverising drumbeat. The vocal is wordless and ululating, articulating itself almost like a theremin, but soon departs, to be usurped by electronics and a lighter drum pattern as the song comes to an end. It is a brilliant and fascinating end to a terrific E.P. and I could easily have listened to 6 minutes more of Crossing Europe. It has a great conglomeration of samples, that in lesser hands, would not have worked, It is less intense than the previous two tracks and turns out to be an appropriate bookend to Amor Vincit Omnia. The track has hints of Cibo Matto's 'Sugar Water'. Similar sort of vocal effect and atmosphere. This song could well be a feature hit, and deserves a lot wider recognition as it is to my mind, the strongest track of the E.P.
How would I sum up 'What's The Time Mr. Wolf' then? Any preconceptions I have of dub-step have been dispelled. I think what elevates Night Wolf above the current stable is that fearless experimentation. It is not simply the same track repeated five times. There is a great shift of moods and sounds, sometimes within the same song. You are never sure what is going to happen next, or how you will react. That is the key strength. Particularly on tracks such as Crossing Europe and I Fade is this clearest. They are very reminiscent of acts such as The Beastie Boys, Fatboy Slim and Moby, who can blend sounds, vocal snatches, genres and loops effortlessly. Night Wolf could easily match them all for daring and innovation and the net profit is a triumphant release. On these tracks as well I was reminded of The Avalanches, and their songs Since I Left You and Frontier Psychiatrist. The latter, I was particularly reminded of on the final track. The balance of the songs is perfect as well. Armor Vincit Omnia is tender and swelling, I Fade is epic and diverse, whilst Hurricane and Shallow are intense and nightmarish. The track listing is spot on, too. The key to perfect track order is to have one of the strongest tracks leading the pack, to get you hooked and keep you listening, and finish with the strongest number to leave the listener wanting more. Night Wolf have achieved this and I am already looking forward to the next E.P. Special mention goes to co-conspirator Centrist, who does a sterling job throughout. The production and sound is slick but not hollow or plastic; the samples and loops and mixed flawlessly and the overall listening experience is joyous, exhilarating and unpredictable.
I cannot find any real critical weaknesses. If I were to hint at suggestions, then maybe feature more vocal power. I was thoroughly impressed by Leah, and her turn. She made I Fade what it is, and perhaps more of her voice, or similarly strong singer, would add texture and substance to tracks. Hurricane and Shallow are both great but the semblance is strong. Maybe parlaying the tracks into one another? I felt that they seemed to be kissing cousins and maybe, at times, indistinguishable. On a similar note, I am not entirely converted to, what we could call 'pure dub-step'. I have always been very much an ardent fan of indie, classic rock, metal and '60s psychedelia, and credit to Night Wolf for a slight re appropriation. I feel that I may never quite be turned, though. That said, I liked both of these tracks and they were necessary and provided an impressive scene change. These criticisms, then, may be rendered moot. It is very much a subjective view, and I'm sure one not shared by many. There was not a lot to fault, as I think it is a terrific effort, and one which will be playing in my head for many weeks to come and infesting my dreams suitably.
Night Wolf have pulled off a neat trick. They have managed to stay true to dub-step and keep its pure elements in tack, but have seamlessly integrated classical music, hip hop, rap and electronic music into the boiling pot and created quite a heady nectar. There is enough range and diversity to appeal to rock lovers, dance floor dwellers and rapper-wannabes alike. The fact that this is pulled off over the course of just 5 tracks is an admirable feat, and kudos must be given accordingly. Although the test is in the tasting, so dive in. There are few people in the world who were more apprehensive about embracing dub-step than me, and I am recommending it. Give 'What's The Time Mr. Wolf', and promise me one thing:
Sleep now, because you may never get a full night's sleep again.
Key Tracks: 'I Fade', 'Crossing Europe'.
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