Album Review: The Wheel Workers’ Past to Present
The songs are beautiful, layered, and well produced. You can feel the time and effort that went into each individual track. The production on this album is top notch. Dan Workman and Higginbotham share production credits, with Dan doing the mixing at SugarHill Studios, and a lot of the recording happening at Studio WheelWorks, as well as SugarHill. The instruments sound clear and defined, the vocals sit perfectly in their place without bleeding over the other instruments. The key textures and additional atmospheric sounds give each song it’s own identity. The synths sound appropriate, not cheesy, which is not an easy feat.
The vocals are impressive for the fact that they are capable of being haunting and comforting within the same song. The synth riffs are inspired and fun on songs like Chemicals, and the melody of that track is something that you could imagine kids singing as they walk home from school. It’s catchy, it’s pop, and it’s not until you listen to what vocalist and primary songwriter Steven Higginbotham is saying that you realize that this music is way deeper than just the infection melodies. The music can turn from sugary sweet sing alongs, to dark and abrasive, and that striking versatility is the perfect display of the depth of their musical vocabulary and complexity.
The thing that is most striking about the Wheel Workers is their message. Certainly, the music is enough to stand-alone. At a first listen, I imagine that the causal music fan wouldn’t catch a lot of the darkness in these songs that is so carefully entwined (maybe even hidden, in some cases) into the melodies. However, with a bit of careful listening and a lyrics sheet, you get underneath the candy coating and beautiful presentation on these songs, and you find the deeper message.
The lyrics, equal parts philosophical and political, tell tales of environmental destruction, abuse of power, the murder of meat, violence, and the atrocity of war. It’s not all hopeless and depressing, however; there is hope and a message of love interlaced within some of the songs, like on Want or Rainbows, which is evidence that the band has solutions to the problems they shed light on.
For instance, the unified chant on Starve the Beast, “Let’s get together, and occupy the world over,” is a great indication that the Wheel Workers aren’t in it for themselves, they are doing this for all of us. The lyrics are apparently paraphrased from a Mario Savio speech, and it’s always exciting to see an artist take an important message and make it more accessible. On Older Now, the message is one of self-betterment, and sharing your improvements with the world instead of using them for your own advantage (except the part about defeating the chess master!).
That’s a big part of what makes the Wheel Workers special. They don’t just talk about what’s wrong with the world- they do something about it. The songs have a feeling of a call to action, and I feel like this is the kind of music that could break through to people and get them to start asking questions, to start thinking about the choices they make in their lives.
You’ll be able to catch The Wheel Workers this weekend, March 2nd, when they release Past to Present to the world, live at Fitzgerald’s, alongside Jealous Creatures, Second Lovers, and Wandering Bufaleros. For more information on that event, you can visit here. To learn more about the Wheel Workers, check out their website and Facebook.
by Rob McCarthy