“Changing Environments”- Wes Buckley (2017)
Wes Buckley’s newest album, Changing Environments considers the album format as composed of unique biomes. Melophiles say they love a song so much that they want to “live in the music,” so Buckley seems to have taken that almost literally with Changing Environments–each song is a living room, or a quiet dirt road, or an inviting bench in a park whereupon you sit to contemplate your dreams, fantasies or feelings.
“Don’t You Make Elvis Cry” is a touching, epic beginning to an album, set in a dreamscape where Wes croons over melodic arpeggiating acoustic guitar lines. “If you ever find yourself in Egypt don’t you cry / you’re set free” he continues. The observation about music itself comes to mind; you can make people feel anything depending on what’s playing, even just at the mention of a word–from Elvis to Egypt–from Memphis Tennessee to Memphis, Egypt. Buckley transmogrifies from songwriter to set designer, with thoughts and feelings as the set pieces.
Attentive listeners will notice an Easter egg to be found throughout the listening of the record–colors announced by Toni Buckley at seemingly random moments, one per song. Whether they represent each song’s respective synesthetic hue or whether they’re part of a broader sound collage is irrelevant. The suggestion is both a distraction and an implication. In “The Psychic is Closed,” Buckley laments disappointment over missing a chance to catch a tarot reading in a song that is falling over itself, sloppy on purpose and for our sake. The song’s color is orange. Now, he says the welcome light is red, but perhaps the light that’s still on in the psychic’s room is casting an orange glow, or perhaps the rug is shag orange, or some other curio in the song is orange!?
Details like that often distract from the big picture, from the cohesion that the album format offers. The Achilles heel of many albums that contain levels of detail and attention risk collapsing under their own weight. Curious embellishments become glaring and garish, and muddle about in cerebral territory far too long. Changing Environments neatly grazes that, with Buckley steering it towards compassion and melody; at times it seems like a string of lullabies and children’s sing-alongs.
Buckley touches on that primal understanding of music that we learn when we are fresh in this world–concise melodies and phrasing that provides our fundamental understanding of music for the rest of our lives. It’s there in“145,” a touching ode referencing the simple, yet effective chord progression that is found at the root of most popular music. Instead of slander, Buckley instead chooses to pay his respects to the formula, admiring it as “the longest road, the beautest, most beautiful time” to go down. In the same breath, he warns “the devil makes his home in shortcuts.” With“Running Astray,” Buckley exercises a smart contrast of modesty and flamboyance; come to be swooned by some lap steel over a drone, stay to hear the odd eponymous hook repeated just enough to become the earworm that takes up residence in your head for the weekend. “To You” is a final meditation, a sendoff and sendup, referencing Prince with serenity.
It’s an ambitious album, front to back. Big on ideas long on execution is not just the newest trend in music but a paradigm shift, and Wes Buckley is proudly heralding it in as a troubadour. Just like each picture is worth a thousand words, each song on “Changing Environments” is worth a thousand listens.