ALBUM REVIEW: Wesley Gonzalez – Appalling Human

Wesley Gonzalez first hit the scene in 2005 at the age of 15 as part of indie rock band ‘Let’s Wrestle’, who went on to release three full length records over a period of 10 years. After ‘Let’s Wrestle’ called it a day in 2015, Gonzalez wasted no time in getting cracking with his solo career, assembling a live band which included Euan Hinshelwood from ‘Younghusband’ and Meilyr Jones.

Gone was the guitar-driven music of his former band and in came a DIY, bedroom aesthetic underpinned by cookie synth sounds and quirky instrumentation. His first solo album – ‘Excellent Musician’ – was the sound of someone forging a new style and learning to play it at the same time.

New album, ‘Appalling Human’ – out on 12th June, 2020 on Moshi Moshi Records – is the confident second solo album, where Gonzalez has wholeheartedly ditched his indie-rock origins and fully found his groove and mastered the aesthetic he started on his debut. If that groove is an orgy of 80s synth sounds with a fair bit of poke and interesting lyrics with the occasional sax, then this album will overwhelm your senses.

The DIY indie styling from the first album is still there but ‘Appalling Human’, is a much more sophisticated and accomplished album than its predecessor and also more so than it might sound on first listen. Gonzalez is assisted by a tight band of accomplices and a mix for the dance floor by James Greenwood (Ghost Culture, Daniel Avery, Kelly Lee Owens).

Gonzalez describes the record:

The point of this record was that it was ‘post-therapy’. ‘Excellent Musician’ was the ‘pre-therapy’ album and I wanted to get started on the next one straight away, so we recorded it and then other personal stuff got in the way.”

Well if ‘Appalling Human’ is the sound of someone coming out of therapy then it seems to have done the trick. The album is breezy and fizzes with creativity. This album is a real sonic treat and Gonzalez has tried to bring new dimensions to his sound:

I wanted to figure out the basslines a bit more this time. Some slap bass, get ’em superfunky. I was listening to loads of house music, hip hop, soul and funk. The more dance music you listen to, the more you go like ‘Oh, it’s ok not to be dreary the entire time’.

It’s fair to say that “Appalling Human” is as far from dreary as you can get so that would be job done by Gonzalez. He was assisted by co-producer Euan Hinshelwood. The album includes lashings of his saxophone and it was tracked on a giant ’70s mixing desk and 2″ tape at his TVT studios in Blackheath.

Along with Hinshelwood, Gonzalez has drafted in bassist Joe Chilton, singer Rose Dougal, drummer Bobby Voltaire and Callum Duffy on synths. Gonzalez had a very clear vision of how the album should sound and the band had to get comfortable with his benevolent dictatorship in the studio:

We started recording two months after the tour of the first album. I treated it the same as Idid the last one, where I didn’t play. It was different only in the sense that I wanted to get people who were like shit hot. I’m not a bad musician but when I’m too involved, I’ll focus on one really small thing and not the bigger picture. I conducted everybody in the room while it was going off, the only thing I’d be in control of is drum programming.

The difference in skill and application between the debut album and ‘Appalling Human’ is apparent and a lot of thought has gone in to the sound Gonzalez was aiming for to the extent that he gave his band mates some homework to do so they could produce exactly what he wanted:

I made Euan a playlist on YouTube of stuff that I was going for, Jessy Lanza, then lots of Yellow Magic Orchestra, late ’90s R&B, Arthur Russell…Initially we wanted it to be really dry and have more of a weird post-punk thing. Then, when we recorded them, it was obvious the songs were super poppy, so we should try and pop them out as much as possible.”

You can heat that pop and fizz throughout the album and it was a good idea to use the mix to make it as prominent as possible. This was down to James Greenwood, who Gonzalez describes as a “fucking brilliant engineer”. He wanted someone with that dance music background, who could bring that something extra in that he hadn’t managed to in his debut, and on the basis of Greenwood’s mix, he definitely found that missing ingredient. It’s also a much more polished affair that sounds less like someone messing around and seeing where it might end up and more like someone using the messing around to pick and plot the course they want – much more focused.

There is also more musical variety on this album that calls to mind everything from Chic to Stevie Wonder to Prefab Sprout. Gonzalez’s vocals are really good throughout, with plenty of strength and reach, at times sounding like Elvis Costello channelling Glenn Tilbrook.

Yes, it’s all very synth heavy – opener ‘Tried to Tell Me Something’ sets the tone here – but there are different musical stylings throughout too. ‘Wind Your Neck In’ is a funky little number. ‘Change’ is a bass driven number about a drinking buddy’s sobering up. By this stage on the album, Gonzalez has really got into that new groove. ‘Used to Love You’ is a lovely tune with some great falsetto vocals from Gonzalez and lovely piano playing – Billy Joel would be proud. ‘Fault of the Family’ is another cracking tune – really, really catchy and bound to be a crowd pleaser. The same applies to “If I’m Sad” with it’s brilliant drum driven opening and crazy space-age synths.

There’s a certain eccentricity running throughout the album which brings to mind single-minded auteurs like Harry Nilsson and more recently Car Seat Headrest. When you have artists with a clear sense of what they want, you can often get misses as well as hits but on “Appalling Human”, Gonzalez manages to hit the mark consistently with his unique sound, which improves with repeated listens.

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