In a town where homogeneity seems to define the musical ruling class, a band such as Little Wooden Men of Essex Junction have few chances to test their bold sonic explorations outside their own basement. For now, at least, this is enough to satisfy them. Their debut album, Made From Dirt, isn't a particularly easy listen, but, like any worthwhile creation, it provides its own unique rewards. With each spin, something new is gleaned from the dense layers of inspiration and imperfection it contains.
Recorded at home, the disc is a reminder that you don't have to be a studio wizard or Berkelee grad to write a compelling tune. If anything, Little Wooden Men's lack of technical proficiency allows them to compose magnificently unself-conscious music.
Masterminded by singer-songwriter and multi-instrumentalist Forest Muelrath, the band is a collective in the truest sense of the word: an ever-evolving experiment featuring a changing cast of musicians. Part carnival nightmare, part post-adolescent elation, LWM's music has something in common with indie bands such as Neutral Milk Hotel and Modest Mouse. Ultimately, however, their renegade sound is all their own.
Tracks such as "Bottom of the Lake," "Nothing Song" and "Painting a Ridiculous Girl" start off simply before erupting into full-on sonic mayhem. Aided by unruly instrumentation and bubbling with the odd field recording, the band's songs are all unhinged and out-of-tune. Still, the fact that they don't give a shit is pretty endearing.
Lyrically, Muelrath inhabits a sprawling world of paranoid surrealism; no self-deprecating whining here. In his weird vision, TVs roam the streets, pictures speak, and death peeks from every corner. Assisted by the use of a Speak and Spell, Muelrath delivers some concise and inspired lyrics on "Duck." "Birthday Song" and "Lay on the Tracks" -- both jaunty meditations on violence and escape -- are punctuated by delightfully off-key piano. As a singer, Muelrath is still finding his footing. At times, his gravedigger's monotone is grating; at others, he conveys emotion through wild vocal leaps and lunges.
Although Little Wooden Men will probably have a tough time gaining local acceptance, they deserve applause for their fearlessness. Let's hope they continue to explore the periphery of rock.