Having spent 10 years fronting a London DIY band that so clearly took their cues from US college rock and British post-punk bands like Swell Maps and Wire, ex-Let’s Wrestle singer Wesley Gonzalez’s debut solo album is an anti-indie record. It might take you a while to realise just how true to its word it is.
The guitars you think you can hear, you can’t – Gonzalez has banned them, learnt how to compose songs about depression, score-settling and his girlfriend on a Korg synthesiser and has become pretty obsessed with the saxophone. Aided still by his self-taught self-sufficiency, the result is a record that superficially, at least, feels like a working men’s club performer passionately retelling his comic/tragic life to a half empty room at the end of a pier, where house spirits are doubled for an extra 30p.
Beneath that instant assertion, it becomes increasingly clear that Gonzalez may be a raconteur in a forgotten, kitsch, British kind of way, but he’s far from a total chancer. He makes do with a limited vocal range, but that you can hear how much effort is going into his singing adds to the charm of a record so personal, conceived at a time when he was sailing close to cocaine addiction and drinking heavily. On the straightest ballad here – the piano-only ‘Don’t Try & Take Me Down’, about reflection and paranoia – Gonzalez sings genuinely beautifully, descending into Harry Nilsson-ish crooning doobs at the end.
Other tracks are about hanging with the wrong crowd and falling out with a particular unnamed friend. On ‘Just The Same’ Gonzalez is brilliantly catty with his Korg set to a spiteful, wiry tone – “A song to sing / A song to be blunt / When did you start living life as a cunt?” He goes on to snark: “Give us a call in a couple of years.” ‘Snake In The Grass’ later addresses the same problem (possibly the same person) with a more positive bossanova beat (jolly music to grave lyrics is a recurring technique here), while it’s difficult to not feel proud of Gonzalez come ‘Not That Kind of Guy’ – a song of self-acceptance that comes late on in the record: it’s ok, he finally decides, not to be cool.
What is never in question here – not on the prancing love song ‘I Am A Telescope’, the XTC-indebted ‘Exhibition Song’ or even the nonsensical ‘Amsterdam’ – is Gonzalez’s gift for tune: the kind of odd melodies and un-schooled structures that can only come from a musician teaching themselves and being bold enough to show those songs to the world. In microcosm, that’s ‘Quarantined River’ – at first as shrill and annoying as a first song composed on a new instrument should be, until it’s not wrong sounding at all, with the arrival of a swelling chorus of triumph that comes with trying. Of course it helps that Gonzalez can write lines like “I’ve been waiting for a reason to breathe before I consider my options.”