Album Review by Ziv Biton
Thirty seconds into Joshua Worden’s newest release, Into Fog, it is clear that this is a far more electronic affair than his previous output. A sped up hi-hat clips at Trap speed and bursts of synths sprinkle the mix like auditory fireworks. It sounds like a starry night sky blinking a telegram to earth.
As opposed to the lush live instrumentation found on previous releases (The Withered Tree EP and Always This) Into Fog sees the Atlanta native significantly changing it up. Here, he creates a sprawling digital terrain: mountains of bass, flickering synth stars, clouds of indecision and a stampede of handclaps. It is a darker record while also his most danceable, even if it comes at the expense of the improvisational poignancy of his previous work.
The only human element here is Worden’s vocals. As such, Into Fog showcases some of his most memorable melodies. “Right At Home” is a beautiful love song where he sings, “lost in thought and all alone / you give her looks and bad love poems” over syncopated claps, fat bass and a keyboard that transitions from sentimental to bouncing. The track builds until he is nearly crying out, “Some days I can almost feel your touch!” Goosebumps and all.
“Calls to You” is another standout where Worden begins in his lower register slowly climbing to his head voice with every verse. The chorus is a grooving electro slide that sounds like something Les Sins would make if Chaz Bundick were a bit more nostalgic.
Vocals aside, it seems production is where Worden is most focused on this release. Evidenced specifically in the chorus sections of nearly every track. Worden has always been slightly clunky on choruses, so here he lets the electronics do the heavy lifting. On “Something” a comet synth zips across the mix. On “Hard Won” there is a guitar of prog-y persuasion playing what sounds like a lead from the character-select-screen of F-Zero Racer. “Twenty” is the most reminiscent of his previous work with a subtle jazz guitar over a fat Dilla kickdrum.
So, Into Fog sounds great on a playlist of other down-tempo acts like BANKS or Sango; and anyone who types “Sohn” into Pandora will certainly hear (and love) this record. But, until now Worden was carving out a solid niche in the electro singer/songwriter genre by occupying his sound with more live instruments than his contemporaries (case in point: the sweeping jazz guitar across the beady-eyed Sunday morning of “Southbound Crane.”) In a genre that is reigned by not-so-elder statesmen James Blake, it seems foolhardy to attempt a coup using the same dark aesthetic (I see you, Sohn.)
Which is why some of the best moments on this record are the bright ones. Considering its title, “Dark Horizons” is surprisingly sunny and childish. It carries with the third wheel adolescence you would expect from a kid sitting in class between Owl City and Panda Bear. There are space wind chimes and a xylophone, Worden’s voice dips and climbs around the beat and a strung out ADD synth-line solo finishes things off. It is a fitting and hopeful end to a dark exploration into the machine, one that will hopefully yield a convergence of electro minimalist aesthetics and Worden’s analog prowess.
Stream Josh Worden’s new album “Into Fog” below.