Long in the works, Wendy Rae Fowler's haunting full-length debut Warped arrives highlighting her masterful penchant for provocative gothic blues-imbued pop and smoky enveloping atmospheres. With an impressive working with Queens of The Stone Age, UNKLE, We Fell To Earth, Maya Jane Coles, and Mark Lanegan - the London-based American expat has been quietly sculpting this intuitive, cohesive record, with some songs written far as back as the '90s - seeing many evolving forms since.
The album narrative arcs around the disintegration of relationships, consequences, and mortality - unfurling a galloping, versatile sonic odyssey spanning the outer spheres of heavy-leaning experimental rock, trip-hop, shoegaze, and moody ambience. Fowler remarks "Warped is a story, a journey through mountains and valleys, its an abandoned sunken ship, it's a stark raving mad lunatic climbing out of a deep, dark, dank hole in the side of the earth, and it is the first warm rays of light on a long awaited spring day. Its agony and ecstasy and everything in-between. It's the sound of life."
Largely produced by Fowler, she returns to a few key collaborators fleshing out arrangements on Warped with Rich File (UNKLE) and Leo Taylor (The Invisible, Floating Points) assisting at times to create the perfect foil for her powerful, spectral pop wanderings. The smeary guitar tones and Swans-like tribal rhythm of the opening dirge "Hollow" evokes a sense of roughed-up beauty setting the record's tone. The post-modern blues swagger of "This Is Not A Love Song" communicates both a sense of elegant sadness and seething anger. Taylor's infectious drumming drives forward "Lying In The Sun"'s soulful groove, while upbeat breaking rhythms are central to the album's hypnotizing first single "Svengali."
The first song she wrote, "Svengali' has evolved miles away from it's beginnings on acoustic guitar alongside Fowler's creative journey, yet retains a sense of urgency and intimacy. Her smoldering cover of Nina Simone's "Plain Gold Ring" is an ambitious undertaking that succeeds transforming it into dynamic art-rock. The Mariachi undertones of "Run" nod to Morricone's desert soundscapes settling well with the quiet tension of "The Sound of My Heart" and "Hollow Ground (Exodus Mix)" further spotlighting 'Warped''s cavernous, cinematic qualities.
Dark and compelling, Wendy Rae Fowler's Warped signals glimmers of hope along the brooding journey. These are not songs of happiness, but somehow they make you feel better.