Album Review: Mt. Wolf – Aetherlight

By on Tuesday, 30th May 2017 at 12:00 pm

Mt. Wolf Aetherlight album coverMt. Wolf have had a bit of a tumultuous time in the music business so far. Back in 2014, they were being compared to London Grammar and were expected to follow the same trajectory. Then they lost their then female lead singer, the kind of shakeup that might have spelled disaster to most other groups. The London trio – singer and bassist Sebastian ‘Bassi’ Fox, guitarist Stevie McMinn and drummer Al Mitchell – soldiered on with Fox and his falsetto taking centre stage to fill the void. This personnel change has appeared to work out in their favour: their 2015 EP ‘Red’ was well received, with single ‘VIII’ featuring Alexa Harley helping them to keep their position as a hyped band.

They took their time hashing out their official major debut to the world, spending 12 months with producer Ken Thomas (M83, Sigur Ros, Daughter) on the songs on their long-awaited debut album ‘Aetherlight’. Precision is the name of Mt. Wolf’s game, with edges as sharp as the interlocking diamonds that make up the band’s logo, yet delicately smoothed over. When I saw them in Austin, I branded them with the genre of atmospheric pop. Listening to ‘Aetherlight’, I guess with the benefit of headphones and the ability to block out everyone and everything else, I can tell I made a bit of a mistake. Los Angeles radio station KCRW have compared their sound to Bon Iver meets M83, which on paper is a combination that doesn’t see to make much sense, does it?


It’s when you hear Fox’s falsetto against gentle guitar lines and a background of expansive synths that you will begin to understand what they’re trying to do. In other words, it’s like listening to a singer/songwriter taking up the synth to add a different kind of emotional volume to the music, not an electronic artist taking up guitar for poignancy. ‘Soteria’, named after a Greek goddess of safety, is described by the band as “plea for forgiveness, and also a recognition that sometimes we need help to avoid the pitfalls that lead to making bad decisions in life.” It’s a good example of their connecting these disparate worlds, as the song begins in a slow, measured way, building towards an anthemic climax. Clear standout ‘Heavenbound’, an early single that we featured in a past Video of the Moment feature, also follows this formula, with beautiful, ethereal choruses.

What their music does have in common with more conventional electronic is track length: with the exception of opener ‘Intro’, closer pilfered from ‘Red’, ‘Exit (Burgs)’, and ‘Tucana’, songs on ‘Aetherlight’ are all 4 minutes or much longer. Singles need to be somewhere near or editable to 3 minutes in length for an important practical reason – to get radio airplay – but especially in these instant gratification days we live in, to also keep the listener’s attention. For those who like getting sucked into a dreamy electronic trance towards a slow build and indeed, those who enjoy considered instrumentals, by all means, walk, don’t run to get this album. Maybe my problem is that I never ‘got’ Sigur Ros?


However, for those of us who like a bit more oomph, direction and a pop bent, you will wonder why it’s taking so long for these songs to get going and to where they need to go. Two notable exceptions on here stick out like a sore thumb, and in a good way. Mt. Wolf chose to punctuate ‘Anacrusis’ with bombast and at earlier points, while a guitar-crashing crescendo awaits at its end. On ‘The Electric’, pounding drums add a much needed vitality otherwise absent on this record.

Having read interviews the band have done in the last 2 years, there’s no doubt that they have the self-determination to make the kind of music they want to make. The key to their success will be how much patience the average music listener has for their use of ambient backdrops arguably too timid for the singer/songwriter structures they’re trying into insert into them.


Mt. Wolf’s debut album ‘Aetherlight’ is out now on CRC Music. To read more of our coverage here on TGTF on the band, including my entirely unpredicted seeing them three times during SXSW 2017, use this link.

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