by Eryn Brothers
I sometimes think William Maxwell likes to hide. His prior work, Calm A Painter and A Subject, was complicated, a little tongue in cheek, full of delicate nuance hiding behind thrums of guitar and grim humor. It held its own around a force of irony and school boy wit, prompting the album to have a strange party conversation with itself, dipping into the lull and barking laughter those kind of things can be. Have you listened to this album? Because if you have, that past sentence made complete sense. If you haven’t, finish the word salad I just made and go listen. It’ll all be clear afterward.
The debut singles off of the up and coming album It’s Been Here Changing For A Long Time set a different tonality and space than its predecessor in terms of grit versus gutty vulnerability. It’s not that Maxwell’s prior work has been lacking a delicate touch, it’s just been waiting to have its turn to sing a solo in the choir of maladies, love and other weirdos that exist within his mind and music.
In fact, with a lot of Maxwell’s work, you have a sense that he’s trying to pick apart every variation of an emotion or feeling by giving it legs. Like the ongoing “there must be a German word for this,” gag from The Simpsons, there’s an innate quality of each song being a definition of one distinct and untranslatable emotion that we are trying to understand upon listening. These emotional twists and turns are very much present on mini-EP Here Goes Forever, comprising the songs “Forever” and “Idyll.”
“Forever” opens with tasteful and sweet strings arranged by Gabe Terracciano that’s met by guitar, giving it a Jerry Jeff Walker sort of step. (Think “Wheel,” from Viva Terlingua!) The song has a strange unison of two conflicting emotions, of something that you want to last but are always witnessing and avoiding the end of. “My hair’s in your hands and it’s on the floor/Got sand in my pockets and it’s in your car,” signifies endings, with touching nods to the finite clip of a look or a day, juxtaposing itself with “hot clean laundry gives the bedsheets heat,” a small pleasure short lived. But if all we have are endings, Maxwell seems to muse with this track, can’t they just build little stairways and paths to forever? Can many endings make something eternal, or is this desire too childish and wistful?
This desire is made clearer in its single companion, “Idyll (Prod. by Hatchback.)” It hangs out again in a secretly country swoony guitar nod full of fuzzy reverb and synth. “Smoke, stay long,” Maxwell drags out, the begging of something impermanent to unyield itself to its nature a very obvious and aching thing. We’re brought back to the past here, somewhere that already happened but is desperately trying to be preserved. Its echo of beat and underpinning drone make the song mildly unsettling, as looking back at something is simultaneously difficult and comforting all at once, a feat that Maxwell cavorts in, as he goes into a quasi-trademark growl and yowl as the song escalates. “Doesn’t it feel like we’re not on human path,” refuses to hide, bearing itself witness as the song churns into tempestuous guitar solo.
It’s an interesting solo. Usually guitar solos show off bravado or machismo but there’s something tellingly vulnerable and painful about this one-it’s effectively used as an outlet of emotion, a triumphantly hurt and brilliant nostalgia. There’s probably a word for it- one only William Maxwell seems to know the actual translation of.
It’s Been Here Changing For A Long Time is due out April 23rd, on Porchfire Records, mastered by Joey Oaxaca and recorded at Feel Flow Studios with Paul Pinion. Art by Mireille Blond.