English folk-rockers’ debut could be a towering highlight of 2010.
Noel Gardner 2010-10-01
Over the last few decades, there have consistently been doomsayers proclaiming that the guitar is on its way out as a centrally important instrument of popular music. Wrong as they’ve invariably been, what has become more prevalent is a shift in some quarters away from having the guitar define one’s sound. While computer wizardry and studio trickery might be the salvation of some, the southern English four-piece Wolf People are the resolute opposite. Insatiable consumers of hen’s-teeth hard rock and psychedelic obscurities, Steeple – their debut album, following up last year’s singles collection Tidings – reflects this dusty immersion via nine songs which deliberately, and unashamedly, look to the past.
Some may hear this mélange of spindly proto-metal riffs, Fairport Convention-style electric folk and batty harmonica parts, and find it hard to believe that this was written and recorded any time after 1972. If progression and modernity are, for you, musical virtues in and of themselves, Steeple might be missing a point. Yet Wolf People are, you suspect, all the better served by ignoring the parts of their record collection that fall outside this magical timeline, and banishing impurities from their aesthetic. Peers of recent years include doubly terrific Swedish pair, Witchcraft and Graveyard, although there’s a touch more Sabbathian metal in their brew; mid-album wailer One by One From Dorney Reach is about as heavy as Wolf People get. That Jagjaguwar, their label, also introduced the world to the similarly rockist Black Mountain is no great surprise, although even that Canadian crew can’t claim the same degree of analogue-fuzzed authenticity.
The thing that aids the quartet the most in their efforts to get the sound of Steeple just so is what muso types mysteriously term ‘chops’. As musicians, Wolf People gel together like a charm, and have a distinct advantage over a great many modern hard rockers by having a drummer, one Tom Watt, who beats away with a swinging funkiness, like the finest hairballs of 40 years gone. If you can handle being spirited back to that time, in brief bursts at least, this might be one of your towering highlights of 2010.