Have you ever spent time in the wetlands?
When I was growing up, I walked around the bogs surrounding my grandmother’s house from morning until night, practicing sword fighting with tree branches and jumping from stone to stone to avoid sinking into the mud below. Every moment is quiet when you’re so far removed from traffic and residence, but also so loud with unattributable natural sounds – birds chirping, mystery rustling in the grass, the croak of frogs. If you wander around in the twilight, you run the risk of putting your foot somewhere the bog may be unwilling to give it back. The mysterious, quiet loudness of the wetlands makes for a dramatic backdrop, one you can feel channeled fully in Aoife Wolf’s new EP The Wetlands.
In the same way as that quiet loudness, there’s a host of opposite parallels that appear throughout The Wetlands that demonstrate the subtlety and complexity of Wolf’s craft. This EP is all at once rich and lush with soundscapes that you can get lost in, while also being hauntingly claustrophobic and dark. No wonder, what with the subject matter at hand – an exploration of the murky void of mental illness.
Fans of Aoife Wolf might venture into this EP’s world with some familiarity. Opener ‘The Woman Who Shot Andy Warhol’ has already been released as a single previously. Chugging guitars and forceful bass lines are the engine of this song, while guitar lead lines dash the songs with dramatic yet mournful energy. The standout here, and throughout the EP, is the vocal delivery. There’s poetry in every line, delivered sometimes under Wolf’s breath and sometimes wailed at the top of her lungs, masked by the sludgy and evocative production. You get a sense of desperate ferocity, particularly as the song reaches its close, where a choir of Aoife Wolves punch out every line while the instrumentals seem to signal the end of the world entirely.
In terms of influence, every track feels almost familiar, like meeting someone at a party who knows your name but you don’t know theirs. Wolf cites some impressive influences, including Siouxsie and the Banshees, Elliott Smith, Kate Bush, Neutral Milk Hotel and others. There’s an early Nirvana influence that’s compounded by the excellent ‘Something In The Way’ cover also. While you can hear each of those names and make the connection, it’s impressive how The Wetlands takes so much from so many places and manages to present it as feeling entirely original.
Next on the tracklist, ‘Screaming Waltz’ shows off far more of Wolf’s ability as a sonic architect than its tracklist predecessor. I’d describe this as music for the end of the world – there’s a harrowing atmosphere in Wolf’s chanted lines, droning bass and the melody-free wall of guitar noise off in the mid-ground. Again, the production on show here is exceptional. Trying to find coherent sound among so much purposeful dissonance is not a walk in the park, but here it seems effortless. This effortlessness feels like a defining point in Aoife Wolf’s style – the strong, artistic way that darkness is harnessed just feels so effortlessly cool. There’s a kind of power, especially in ‘Screaming Waltz’ and eponymous track ‘The Wetlands’ that feels like a more artful word than “badass” should exist to describe it.
‘They Say I Have A Fever’ is the EP’s high point. The firm and defined melodies give it a catchy, singalong feel that’s certainly an outlier on this record, but, oddly, doesn’t detract from the artful nature of it all. There’s a fantastic, frenetic energy in the jangly guitars, menacing bass and choir-like layering of vocals building fit to burst, before releasing into that top-tier Nirvana cover. This tune was creepy to begin with, but Wolf manages to summon some really primal fear in this adaption. The slightly off-tune guitar and piano, combined with some background sounds straight from the nightmare machine, almost make this cover feel like the song’s final form – doing what the song wanted to do in the first place, just better.
Finally, we return to an instrumental version of ‘Screaming Waltz’. Without the vocal, there’s a sense of comedown from the stripped-back version of this song. It’s like the feeling of leaving the dark cinema screen after watching a thrilling movie, returning to reality but with the otherworldly experience still around your shoulders like a shawl. It’s masterful songwriting to conjure such a sense of aesthetic in such a short work, bringing to mind the kind of nuance soundtrack composers use.
Aoife Wolf’s ability to transport you to a mysterious place is enthralling and exceptional, and The Wetlands introduces us to a name likely to become associated with quality songwriting and composition in Belfast for quite some time to come.