ALBUM REVIEW: A Cold Heaven by MadWolf

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MadWolf is an upcoming composer/producer and multi-instrumentalist who creates music in an eclectic range of genres and styles, though his music could be loosely described as alternative and, at times, avant garde. He works with several creative collaborators, so in a certain sense MadWolf is essentially a collective.

Having also released a single this year, The Little Piano, this album consists of fourteen tracks and the collaborators include Ian Darr-Johnson, Nuetrino Yeatts, Vikiro Hop, Chase Naviello and Dylan ‘Cowboy’ Rose.

The first track Writing To My Reality features Nuetrino Yeatts delivering a spoken word poem over a background of classical-influenced piano. Whilst the moniker of Yeatts brings to mind the famous Irish poet, the poetry of this track is more akin to the stream of consciousness, introspective and freeform lyrical style of the Beat poets like Allen Ginsberg.

Musically, it is a composition of some skill in both how it is written and performed. Stylistically, it is closest to the era of Beethoven’s late piano sonatas and the combined effect is a mesmeric piece of avant garde along the lines of Revolution 9 by The Beatles.

Second track The Longest Dream is completely different; a ten minute alternative blues song featuring Ian Darr Johnson and Dylan ‘Cowboy’ Rose. Strummed acoustic guitar and occasional electric guitar are the bedrock of the sound, underpinned by subtle drumming and percussion.

The vocals are raw and passionately delivered, reaching anguished states at certain points. Lyrically, it is again poetic, with stark, affecting imagery that made me think of Bright Eyes’ Conor Oberst: “Broken cities and broken men…..burning cities and burning men….”.

Gods and Stars maintains the rawness and slightly lo-fi nature of the previous song but is relatively lighter in tone. It is the first of several collaborations with Vikiro Hop. Whilst melodically upbeat, lyrically it’s riddled with angst and self-loathing: “I was the one who sucked the desert dry….I can see that this story is ending…”. The chorus hook is unexpectedly memorable and catchy, with the looseness of the performance belying a well crafted song and arrangement.

Broken Elevator is a solo MadWolf track, a two minute instrumental that made me think of the bleak electronic soundscapes of the second half of David Bowie’s classic Low album.  A fine track that showcases MadWolfs skills as a producer. The following Silver Forest is another song featuring Vikiro Hop, very different to the first. It’s electronica-tinged futuristic pop similar in style to that of another musical collective, Gorillaz.

Subconscious is a solo effort, one of the more avant garde songs that sounds like Dr. John jamming with a stoned Fleet Foxes, produced in the style of Tom Waits’ Swordfishtrombones album.

The inventive use of off-kilter percussion acts as a nice textural contrast to the finely played bluesy acoustic guitars. Seventh track Sticatto is another quirky instrumental featuring an irrepressibly upbeat staccato piano melody counterpointed by synth strings and brass.  Impossible to classify in terms of genre, but very enjoyable.

Float Back Down is an album highlight, a gentle, melancholy acoustic ballad with a poignant, world weary lead vocal (presumably by Vikiro Hop). This is MadWolf at his most traditional and accessible (even though the last words are ‘f*** them all’….).

Next comes a reprise of Broken Elevator, this one full of restless, hard to define rhythms and pleasingly distorted keyboards. Tenth track Bassoul is another curveball, a busy bassline and a jazzy vocal melody produced and arranged in a very unusual and interesting way. Perhaps the most original track on the album.

Simple Songs is a nice contrast; it’s a return to the more straightforward acoustic balladry of Float Back Down, this one augmented by magical, xylophone-style synth.  Twelve track Insane sounds like being in the studio at 3am after a few ‘jazz cigarettes’ and recording the results, including the amusing studio chatter. The song’s surreal start gives way to a more defined effort that has a Father John Misty vibe in its vocal melody.

Smooth Sailing introduces a new collaborator to the album, Chase Naviello.  It is one of the epics, a space-rock instrumental with reverb-drenched guitars beamed in from somewhere approaching Alpha Centauri. A deliciously blissed out track that seems to exist in it own unique sonic space, with a Dave Gilmour influence in the style of the playing.

The closing song Your Silence is another collaboration with Ian Darr-Johnson and it’s the sort of raw acoustic blues that Kurt Cobain was covering on Nirvana’s Unplugged in New York album.  The dissonant chord changes and angular vocal melody ensure the album ends on a predictably unpredictable way (if that makes sense).

Overall, this is a fascinatingly eclectic and diverse collection of songs by a composer/producer who seems to thrive on collaboration. Despite the wide range of genres and moods the album encompasses, there is still a cohesion to the music that is perhaps due to working with fellow creative kindred spirits.

There is a refreshing lack of pretension and commercial ambition in the rough hewn, ‘warts and all’ approach to the production, but those not put off by a lo-fi style will find a wealth of interesting material here.  I expect MadWolf to gain a devoted fanbase as a consequence of this fine album which puts blues, folk and electronica through the mangler and returns some intriguing, often enthralling, results.

VERDICT = 8.6 out of 10


Alex Faulkner

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