It’s always admirable when songwriters push themselves to extremes when making records, such as Bon Iver who retreated to a cabin in the woods when recording their debut album, or Will Varley, whose second album was inspired by a walking tour of the UK. Will Whisson is no stranger to this; living in a campervan for 18 months to focus his senses allowed him to fully commit to the songwriting process. With influences spanning from classics such as Bob Dylan and Steve Earle to modern icons like Ben Howard, his newest EP ‘Nowhere Bound‘ is steeped in experience, feeling both intimate and expansive, practically sparkling with optimism throughout.
The opening title track ‘Nowhere Bound’ in particular is a wonder, starting out with a dreamlike introduction. With gently-picked distorted guitar and keys, it brings to mind panoramic shots over the countryside, as shown in the excellent video for the track. The production, by Will himself and Dry The River producer Peter Miles, is phenomenal, gradually building into subtle bass and production, leading us into a Steve Earle-esque guitar riff. The reverberated guitars add an interesting touch to the traditional country style and complement Whisson’s unique voice perfectly. With the first chorus not arriving until the 3 minute mark, it’s a track that burns gradually but ever so brightly, with the instantly memorable hook refusing to leave your brain. It’s the sort of melody that you can singalong to on the first listen, and it only gets more and more potent with repeated listens, with the backing vocals and keyboards being especially wonderful. It culminates in a powerful final refrain of “Have a little heart, show a little truth, you’ll get what you deserve, but you’ve got to see it through,” the kind of chorus that you can imagine packed rooms of people singing along to. It gives way into a blistering guitar solo and tumbling piano, a beautiful outro to a beautiful song. As an opening track and lead single, it’s perfect – the kind of tune that songwriters spend their careers trying to write.
The middle two tracks of the EP are less ambitious, but no less impressive. ‘Little Island‘ is an ode to staying positive and hopeful in a country gone mad, with gorgeous harmonies and a catchy lead guitar line. It’s not all naive optimism – “No surprises, pulling punches just to see it through,” Whisson sings, “I don’t buy it,” – but it’s an uplifting track with the feel of a warm campfire on a summer’s night, giving us “a little hope to pave the way“. ‘Start’ is a more upbeat number, with melodies and the rhythm section reminiscent of Arcade Fire’s Sprawl. Its yelping vocals, dramatic percussion and harmonised lead guitars add unique flavour to the tune. Waves of distorted electric guitar crash in toward the end, adding a dramatic edge to the tune, an encouraging number to pushing yourself forward. As Whisson puts it, “to get to where you want, you’ve got to start.“
The final track on the standard version of the EP, ‘The Wayward Slope,’ is my second favourite track overall, ending the EP on a gentle note. It’s got some incredible backing vocals, with multi-layered gospel tinged harmonies, reminiscent of The Head and The Heart. It’s one of the softer tracks on the release, but it’s far from simple, with the delicate arrangement building throughout into a quiet symphony. It’s a slightly more cynical take on the themes from ‘Little Island‘, with Whisson admitting things aren’t all rosy: “How do we explain this mess? (…) Why it’s come to this, it’s anyone’s guess,” but his beautiful melodies offer hope for the future.
In today’s folk scene, it’s rare to see a collection of songs so positive and optimistic, and rarer yet for them to feel completely natural and unforced, to be uplifting and impressive without seeming cloying. However, Will Whisson has captured a magical formula in this EP, delivering a powerful and cohesive collection of tracks. ‘Nowhere Bound’ is one of the best songs of the year, and along with the rest of the songs here, it proves that Whisson is one to watch – I can’t wait to hear more new music from him.
The EP ‘Nowhere Bound’ is available now, and can be downloaded for free here.