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Wharfer's Kyle Wall Falls Backwards in Time on 'The Road Dissolved the View'

The Brooklyn-based artist's fourth LP, which we're premiering in full, is desolate and dark, built around an arresting and unpredictable voice.

by Alex Robert Ross
Feb 2 2018, 4:33pm

Photo by Corey Wall

The first three songs on The Road Dissolved the View, Kyle Wall's fourth LP as Wharfer, are a study in frustrated claustrophobia. Over a desolate piano, a thrumming organ, then a gentle guitar, he meanders east and west to Dublin, Alabama, and New York. He drawls about animals as omens: hound dogs in the road, a scorpion, a white wolf, a goblin in his bed. He mutters about "violent decay." But by the time he's sleep-walked his way to the end of the crushingly lonely "Melt Down," it's clear that he's barely left his living room. "At the moment I drift away, I fly into a violent rage," he sings in an almost-whispered bass, snarling and shattered. "And I think about falling backwards in time

"I've been in Brooklyn for eight years now, and sometimes it's overwhelming in a negative way, and you can just go for being in Alabama or somewhere else on a whim," he says over the phone from his apartment in Bed-Stuy. It's a familiar notion. Most people in most major cities will tell you that they'd like to get out into an open expanse of land, a little nothingness, for a couple of weeks, even if it's just a short vacation. In the last few months alone, Kurt Vile & Courtney Barnett have wandered off into tree-lined paradise, and Sam Ray has sung about moving to the desert.

Some of that fatigue is, inevitably, formed by a need to escape from a world in crisis. Wall wrote the majority of the record—which we're premiering in full below—around the 2016 election and into the early part of 2017, beaten down by what was then a freshly disastrous news cycle. On the woodwind-inflected "Deep Blue," he goes between a croak and a whisper, singing about journeying through West Virginia, a dream of meeting an "angel on a Greyhound." Then he skips forward in his daydream: "We crawled through a lifetime of imminent doom / Now we're out in the sand and it's perfect." It crackles into the late-night country of the title track, where that dream has disappeared completely: "The rapture's already here."

"I follow that stuff more than I should," he says, "and so much of it is disheartening and just straight-up grotesque." Writing The Road Dissolved the View on his piano at home in Brooklyn may not have dragged him out of the grotesquerie completely. But it was a way to draw something out of that less-than-constructive anxiety loop.

Even while he daydreams of escaping, though, Wall is still consumed by that "falling backwards in time" on The Road Dissolved the View. The album concludes with three quiet but brutal songs: "Wilt (For Adam)," "The Hospital Choir," and "New Hyde Park." Each one contains a small reckoning. The magical realism—those ominous animals and the long journeys—are still there, but Wall's clearest thoughts begin to cut through. "Regrets and ashes strip me down, illuminating every bloated view," he sings first. Then, "With dystopia in my heart, I’m looking back." Finally, on the sparse closer: "I think of what I'd tell my son about the days of blood and hives / As I sink under the trail again, it stinks of spiderwebs and gin."

These are uncanny things for Wall to sing. Last spring, soon after the release of his third LP, Scenes of the Tourist, he had The Road Dissolved the View ready in demo form. But things started to fall apart. He went through a break-up and quit drinking—wholesale changes to his mind and routine. "That obviously changed my social life a little bit," he says, probably understating things. Instead of drinking, he was "making lots of smoothies and buying all this music gear," and suddenly, he had to confront these songs about regret and decay and desperate escape while sober. "The album kind of captures this hybrid of having the songs written a little before some of this and then they were all recorded after," he says.

So, he spends much of The Road Dissolved the View looking backwards, trying to rearrange the past. "Lyrically, I was caught up in the idea of alternate timelines, what-ifs, how things could have been different, how they might be different for someone else, what's final and what can still be altered," he says.

That, too, is a retreat from reality—those what-ifs can't come to much, no matter how beautifully they're related. But it does lead him to an unexpectedly peaceful conclusion, before "New Hyde Park" sparks up into a muffled chaos of whistles, bells, and cello strings: "But for now I'm on a train / Awaiting life and blooming cattle, a way to go before I retire." When the past seems impossible, that sense of a future is a powerful consolation.

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