Portland’s Taylor Malsey presents listeners with some warbled tunes and an inviting, warm blanket of melancholia on the excellent Wilt debut Hand Mirror, out now on Good Cheer Records. And, though it’s mostly a record for people who like their music with bumps and cracks in it, all in all, it’s pretty enveloping stuff.
The typical Wilt song doesn’t run much longer than a minute or two, and Malsey, for all the attention to capturing just the right sort of off-kilter post-rock balladry, isn’t very concerned with structure. It’s the buzz of emotion and authenticity he’s after. And, time and again, he achieves a kind of innocence and nostalgia that will plant an earworm in your head. Calling to mind lo-fi contemporaries like Alex G and sounding, at times, like a slightly updated take on John Stuart Mill, Malsey presents glassy guitars; poppy, half-whispered vocals; and buried bass, synth and drums among a myriad of founds sounds and tape effects on tracks like the beautiful ”Pane of Glass,” the catchy ”Coven,” the warped ”Wilt” and the pop-ish ”Polin.”
Advance material made a bit of noise about Malsey ruminating on lost youth but the lyrics, far from an afterthought, are sunken pretty low in the mix — and while it’s a stretch to say he’s unintelligible, it is another form of introversion among one of the most extroverted of affairs. There are moments that teeter on the experimental (the ambience of ”bbboo,” the synthy pseudo-song ”Circle”) but pop-rock structures and sentiments dominate the soundscape; everything fidelity-wise is so shaky that the whole thing — wonderfully so — feels like it might run off the rails. The fact that Malsey so casually tosses off song-snippets that invite repeated listens will surprise you and that seems to be the point.
There are no clear singles on the disc and that, again, seems to be done with intention. Hand Mirror is meant to hang together as a whole document, an experience, not a collection of moments, and, in that respect, Malsey owes a great debt to the pre-streaming society of the 1990s and its lo-fi movements. Ariel Pink’s Haunted Graffiti, Smog/Bill Callahan before him and others out there still might stake a claim to colorful but experimental pop music in the lo- to mid-fi domain but, with Wilt’s Hand Mirror, Malsey proves he’s out to grab a corner on the gray market.