Under Review

When listening to ambient, the word “glamorous” doesn’t often come to mind. It can be difficult to escape certain hallmarks of the genre, be it the characteristic wind-like sound effects or the clicks and chatters of house music, the wonderful world of ambient can feel no bigger than a foggy fish bowl at times. Enter Crossface Chicken Wing, the second full-length release from Vancouver-based artist The Golden Age of Wrestling. Dope names aside, the record is meant to encapsulate the vibe of “glam-bient,” and accomplishes this with hardly a click or rimshot in earshot. Utilising airy pads and rounded-sounding synths in conjunction with pop-sensitive melodies and one-phrase grooves, the record comes out sounding both novel and representative of the genre at the same time.

Crossface Chicken Wing starts off on a strong foot with “i miss eating big league chew and watching nitro in the basement of your old house,” by playing with bouncy synth lines and muffled vocal samples to bring the song into an extremely catchy B-section, which features a brilliant piano melody. The Golden Age of Wrestling plays with an eclectic array of sounds, but their usage of analog-sounding keys shouldn’t be understated. There are moments where a few stray piano notes cut through the aether of the soundscape, elevating the experience to a whole new level. The good vibes keep rolling on the single “almanac” and its nostalgia-inducing melodic ideas that wouldn’t be out of place in an indie rock jam, what with its muddy string arpeggios and warbly piano leads that successfully evokes a Drukqs-era Aphex Twin.

The album keeps on giving with the collaborative tune “body shots montage,” featuring the artist’s alter ego, Devours, and takes a quick detour into a shifting electro-punk anthem. It’s a definite highlight on the record for its abstract, washed-out intro, eerie vocals, and snappy transitioning between segments of the track. Crossface Chicken Wing is closed out by “koala kisses,” which sounds like it could be the end credits theme for a lost mid-2000s indie game. Its chiptune leads drowning in reverb are neatly coupled by classy SFX usage and comfortably wrapped in gorgeous synth padding, a fitting finale for such a record.

Effortlessly marrying a myriad of influences, from genre-defining soundscapes to 8-bit curiosities, Crossface Chicken Wing is able to present itself as a contender in the ambient space. Dripping with character, it will be hard to ignore what The Golden Age of Wrestling does next. The hooks are sticky, the sounds are engaging, and the music is absolutely glamourous.

Discount Cowboy is a terrific album. The songs are contemplative and engaging, and the songwriting and story-telling are top notch. The lyrics are vivid and often deal with serious topics, like life and living, heartbreak, loneliness, and things not quite going your way, “Well I’ve been shell-shocked, Ram Rocked / Broke apart  / … / But I know something most of all / I may look big but I feel so small” Spank Williams sings on album opener “I’m not handsome, I’m hammered.”

Spank Williams does a good job talking about these topics, and brings in a rich perspective with some self-deprecating humour (the album title, for example); words of wisdom — “I feel bad but hey I felt worse / having emotions is a blessing and curse” support — “just call me whenever if you need a friend / I know you’re praying loneliness will end;” and honesty — “say you love me yes you do and / I’ll shed a tear saying I love you and / I’m not creator of gold glass towers no / I’m not a cowboy I’m a coward”. At the same time, the skits and samples that are interspersed in the album provide well-timed comic relief. 

The music is beautiful throughout the entire album. The instruments rowdily come together on “She Drank Gooseberry Wine” and support Spank Williams’ musings. A jazzy interlude also appropriately adds to the chaos. Their comfort with a wide diversity of moods is clear as well. A lot of tension in “I’m Not Handsome I’m Hammered” gives way to the mellow “Poor Young Merrit Man Pt 2.,” while the rhythm really drives the story-telling forward on “I’m Not a Cowboy I’m a Coward.” “The stars bounce off the snow in Goldbrige B.C” is a well-placed breather, and is two minutes and thirty seconds of some delightful music. Despite this diversity in moods, the album is still very cohesive and a joy to listen to.

Spank Williams mentions that John Prine and Tom Waits are the album’s biggest musical influences. You can hear those influences — along with a bit of Hank Williams — but Discount Cowboy and Spank Williams still have a distinct sound, and I’m looking forward to hearing more.