Photo: Aaron Rappaport
On his debut album, Sound Emporium, released via Blind Owl Records, Lee Wilder channels diverse stylistic elements along with influences from film, literature, and life itself.
Wilder explains, “I call it a bipolar gospel journey. Just me struggling to be present, in the moment. I have found that the real source of creativity is in consciousness.”
Recorded at San Diego’s Audio Design Recording, Wilder and an array of accomplished players crafted an achingly authentic, entirely analog record embroidered with boldly imaginative arrangements. Often co-writing with his producers and players, Wilder shunned genre templates to indulge a rich, mixed palette of influences freely.
Talking about how the album came to be, Wilder says, “After ruining a marriage and pretty much-losing everything of any emotional value in my life, I decided I needed to live a more sober and purposeful life. During that process, I was in the studio with producers Dan Cervantes and Jordan Andreen. The result is ‘Sound Emporium.’”
Inspired by his parents who played in the band Country Music Machine, Wilder, after watching La Bamba when he was nine years old, started playing guitar and writing songs. Initially influenced by oldies radio, after attending a Nirvana show, he immersed himself in edgy, alternative music: The Pixies, The Melvins, and The Breeders.
Encompassing 10 tracks, the album opens with the glossy “Rollin’,” highlighted by gospel-laced vocals, slide guitar, braying brass, and radiant female harmonies.
Entry points include “Mess of Things,” which rolls out on psychedelic tones riding a dark, pulsating melody. Wilder’s vocals imbue the lyrics with musing textures that ramp up to confessional timbres on the chorus.
After a strident, blaring intro, “Fever” transitions to shadowy harmonics topped by deep, portentous vocals. The chorus provides a sharp contrast to the verses, moussing up to piercing guitars, revealing the stark sensation of passion.
Akin to the musical outpouring of a Ramada Inn lounge act, “Company Man” features swaying bossa nova flavors, high-pitched harmonics, and the marginally unhinged, deadpan vocals of Wilder.
Commenting on the song, Wilder shares, “It’s just the result of me listening to people saying, ‘Man, I feel stuck in life. I’ve got everything on paper, but in my core, I’m just depressed.’”
Infused by a sawing Theremin, “Bluebird” resembles an eerie waltz one would have heard on the Twilight Zone version of the Lawrence Welk show. The dueting voices of Wilder and Jess Robert juxtapose against the conspicuous wavering melody, imbuing the tune with two distinct descants.
A personal favorite because of its ghostly, brooding feel, “No Man’s Land” conjures up suggestions of Johnny Cash performing the theme song for a spaghetti western film.
“Cave In” ties the album off with style, offering a marching groove and aromatic, choir-like harmonies that imbue the tune with hints of a Celtic hymn.
Ranging all over the genre map, with Sound Emporium, Lee Wilder produces a wonderfully eclectic album dripping with bewitching flair.