Archer Prewitt

Wilderness

(Thrill Jockey; 2005)

By Matt Stephens | 19 September 2007

Until quite recently, I was never one to put music on as I was going to sleep. It was something that many of my friends -- most of them avid, passionate music listeners in their own right -- swore by, but something which I could never manage. For me, music has a way of dominating my consciousness whenever it’s on; for instance, I’m wary of putting on music I actually like at parties, for fear of neglecting my guests to just sit by the stereo. So whenever I would try to snuggle up with a record before bed, I’d find myself too enamoured with it to relax, usually finding myself more wound up when it was finished than when it was started.

Maybe I’m softening, or maybe my attention span is starting to wane, but in the last few months I’ve begun to try putting on my headphones before bed, to much greater success than I’d anticipated. Generally, I’ve been pretty rigid with what I’m willing to play – early Dylan (especially the recently released Halloween 1964 concert at the Philharmonic Hall), Godspeed, Nick Drake, pretty much anything by Spiritualized – but the band that always seems to fit the best, by far, is The Sea and Cake. For what must have been a month straight, I drifted off to the sound of 2003’s One Bedroom, sometimes not even making it past “Four Corners.” Needless to say, I slept like a baby.

S&C guitarist Archer Prewitt’s Wilderness is less ambient and more song-oriented than his work with the band, but no less valuable as bedtime music. Prewitt is a sharp pop craftsman, as demonstrated by opener “Way of the Sun,” which accentuates his gorgeous, understated vocal performance with acoustic guitars, sparse keyboards, trumpets, and handclaps. The genius of the arrangement, though, is how Prewitt keeps its eccentricities – namely, the tempo change, the airy, synthesized vocal overdubs and the spacey keyboards – so subtle that you hardly notice them before the third or fourth listen. Like most of Wilderness, it’s at its core a simple pop song, and Prewitt is careful to keep it that way.

Second track “Leaders” is nearly as great, slightly more upbeat but no less pretty, sounding vaguely Paul Simon-esque. Prewitt’s lyrics are seemingly political (“say hello to your leaders/there is nothing competing with them”), and they manage to be convincing, despite the hazy, laid-back production. The beauty of Wilderness’ two opening numbers is laudable, but if you manage to stay awake (and I mean this in a good way) for the remaining nine, you’ll find a slightly more mixed bag. Most of the album’s weaker moments come when Prewitt’s ambitions get the best of him; the bombastic codas of “Cheap Rhyme” and “Without You” are intricate and well-choreographed, but Prewitt’s voice is too meek to make them convincing, and they fall flat. Elsewhere, “Judy, Judy,” and “O, KY” simply suffer from iffy songwriting, and never really get off the ground.

All the same, Wilderness is nothing if not consistent, and even its dullest points are palatable given the right mood. All its weaknesses aside, its found its way into my regular shuffling of bedtime music, holding its own alongside tried-and-trues like Pink Moon and Let it Come Down. It’s certainly not 2005’s most exciting record, but the lush yet subdued arrangements and Prewitt’s warm, intimate songwriting make for a sturdy 54 minutes, regardless of your state of consciousness.