I’ve written before about the fluidity of our current musical situation. In a world dominated by phantom, cyberspace interactions, the whole concept of a scene has been destroyed – a lazy journalist looking for a story can link together three acts and call it a movement, geographic distance unimportant at best. We saw it last year when Neon Indian, Washed Out and Toro y Moi became a generation; while earlier in 2011 Frank Ocean, The Weeknd, and How to Dress Well were deemed the bastions of indie’s latest crush on reconfigured R&B – despite the fact that they were an Odd Future-affiliated Bieber-songwriter, an ambiguous collective of Toronto’s underground, and a self-made, bedroom-recorded Brooklynite respectively.
That doesn’t mean it’s not true: we’ve seen enough of the world’s laptop beatmakers descend into bouncy, mid-‘90s, Timbaland-bred pop to call it a thing. Kelis lost deep inside a frigid James Blake composition or Rihanna singing over xx samples – it isn’t a phantom this time around, sparks of R&B flare have actually become as beguilingly ubiquitous as the PR blabber. So much so that it’s reached the point that it might be sabotaging; when a kid like Pittsburgh’s Wise Blood starts singing melancholy bars over clattering, ping-pong sample-pop, people start turning off because he’s already so late to the party. It’s even harder when the greatest cultural penetration you’ve achieved is being the guy responsible for turning the break on ‘When The Levee Breaks’ into a crooner jam.
His name is Christopher Laufman, he makes music out of other people’s songs. The only personally-crafted material is usually his voice, and coincidentally Pittsburgh is also the home of all-time party-master/copyright-law archenemy Girl Talk: you could call it a scene, if the two were any less different. These Wings is introvert music, ostensibly crafted by someone who keeps to himself. Rubber bass and scattered guitar lines congealing into fleeting, off-kilter melodies all centred on Laufman’s out-of-register voice. He sings about love with his whole heart: the earnestness is almost off-putting.
As I said it’s mainly excavated stuff. I bet Laufman is a lot like me, coming of age in the late ‘90s, equipped with the nostalgic posture necessary to filter out the multitude of wrongs from that era of pop and latching on to its tremendous rights. His voice sounds like a loose, white-guy attempt at Aaliyah, right down to the instinctual hopefulness. On the first line of the first real song ‘Darlin’ You’re Sweet’ he’s already talking about proposing marriage. The glistening, seasick instrumental beneath doesn’t exactly mirror his confidence, but there’s never a moment you doubt Laufman’s sincerity. The samples he’s grabbing are usually big and pulpy: choir incantations, floor-filling drums, swelling keyboards, but they aren’t ironic. It sounds like he’s trying to build a suitable backdrop for his incredible emotions.
You’ve got to give him props for sticking to his aesthetic: These Wings never gives up on its fever-dream pulse for the entirety of its quarter-hour run. Everything is punctuated with the same titanic, snare-drum smash, everything swirls around like a sharp, melodic miasma, and the core is always Laufman’s uncanny voice – bound to turn off a few on first impression. He slips through a few incarnations, dark and pummelling on ‘I’m Losing My Mind’, loose and rambling on ‘Nosferatu’, but the general idea remains intact. We’ll never be sure if that’s a limited scope, abbreviated means, or true artistic vision, but it certainly does elevate These Wings into something that deserves attention for its peculiarity – in a way it sounds like a mutated confessional songwriter record, like Beck of Jeff Buckley.
The best song comes at the end; a few shimmering synths, and an indelible vocal melody turns ‘Penthouse Suites’ into Laufman’s very own irreverent pop song. Far removed from the gawkiness of the other Wise Blood experiments, it’s the one time the confidence of the voice is reflected in the music. An interview cuts in of someone talking about his newfound virtuosity. Perfect. You may not come from These Wings believing in Wise Blood longterm, but you might very well fall in love with the adorable oddity of Christopher Laufman.