Wilding – the nom de plume of Justin Wilding Stokes – premiered the single ‘Swipe Right’ here on Backseat Mafia last month and it was quite a breath of fresh air. I observed it was a highly enjoyable marriage of pure pop bounce mixed with an intelligent and off-kilter lyrics. Wilding just released his new album entitled ‘The Death of Foley’s Mall’ and if there’s one thing that is inherently clear, the single was not a fluke.
‘The Death of Foley’s Mall’ is an elegant and perfectly formed collection of exquisite pop songs that are fresh, fearless and imbued with intelligence and humour. Stoke’s wry, observational lyrics are a product of a period of enforced indolence when he lost his day job and spent his time hanging around a faded shopping mall absorbing the many characters passing through, and channelling these into 11 witty, quirky tracks.
After I lost my day job, I found myself spending more time observing people, mostly old people, in my local neighbourhood of Coburg. It still has a tatty mid-20th Century Australian charm, but its character is changing rapidly. I’m a pretty nostalgic person so I wanted to capture its essence before what I like about the place is lost forever. I did that through writing about some local people and places.
There is a profound empathy with these souls::
A parade of bargain hunters with remarkable human stories of love, loss, grief and hope.
This creates a recurring theme throughout the album:
During the songwriting process I realised that by writing about old people, I was actually writing about my own decay and death. So this is my death album.
The songs are like photographs that document a community and lifestyle in transition. Common to many suburbs around the world.
I’m drawn to the loneliness of old things – objects, buildings, stories, people.
Stokes lists his influences as ranging from Supergrass through to Madness via The Beach Boys, Burt Bacharach and The Kinks. I could add to that XTC and the recent solo work of Johnny Marr.
‘I Will Recover’ captures this range perfectly: layers of euphoric vocals and harmonies over mountain-high melodies – an inherent joie-de-vivre that is enthralling and intoxicating.
The eye for an element of deep poignancy in the mundane path of suburban life is a recurrent theme – ‘Losing Teeth’ with its traces of lost hopes and dreams, ‘Speed King of the Commonwealth’ a hilarious recounting of pensioner mobility scooter madness. It’s an absolute whacky joy. Who hasn’t seen mobility riders riding with impunity around the neighbourhood and, indeed, who wouldn’t do the same in that situation?
‘The World Will End Today’ is a frighteningly prescient view of contemporary times and a super virus and highlights Stokes’s deeply formed sense of poetic whimsy.
The title track is a glorious mid point to the album: an elegant and poised rumination on life. Indeed there is an aching beauty throughout the album: perfectly formed vignettes of simple lives that each, individually have their own profound meaning and value. ‘You’ve Never Looked So Beautiful As Now’ is the most exquisitely phrased elegy to a lost love.
‘Time Will Pass You By’ is another gorgeous capture of the transience of life and the enduring qualities of pure love:
Her teacup hands are softly guiding Him up to meet her
At the junkyard in the sky
And all this poetic whimsy does not float around on its own. The instrumentation is rich and crystalline: bubbling guitars and a pounding insistent rhythm with splashes of instrumentation. Stokes’s voice is a perfect delivery mechanism for the lyrics: there is a self-deprecatory tone, a hint of arch humour and celestial harmonies that add a Beach Boys lustre.
This is truly a moving album. Beautifully expressed, perfectly formed pop songs that evince a sense of deep melancholy at the state of humanity, yet spotlights the inherent beauty and nobility of individuals.
You can get it through the link below: