A couple of weeks ago, I had the pleasure of talking with Eric Pollard, aka Actual Wolf. It was a lovely conversation and we mostly geeked about coffee, music and his new album, Itasca.
A sort of love letter to home and childhood, Itasca is made up of 9 songs. Although much of it is quiet in comparison to the thunderous racket of Actual Wolf (review), Itasca‘s strength is the subtlety of it. Sometimes the loudest sounds and fiercest punches can be delivered in an understated manner.
Take ‘Give me your gun’ as a primary example of this. A bit of George Strait‘s longing in the vocals, an atmosphere of strums, that quiet-yet-loud bass line typical of country and a small choir of voices are enough to make this song a loud speech that needs not to scream to plead to put down your weapons, whichever they might be.
Introspection is always a sharp weapon for many an artist. It can come from a heirloom, a fondly remembered mixtape or family portrait. ‘Family’ touches on this celebration of the minutiae of family. Quirks, family reunions and the many stories the elders of the clan bestow on the young ones are a few of the memories included here. Now, romance is another weapon, used quite often and there’s a trio in Itasca that aim for that particular area. ‘Romeo’, ‘This ole way’ and ‘Smothering love’ all aim to create short stories about the vicissitudes of love. Hey, not all relationships have good endings and we often need reminding that this happens, but also acknowledge it’s not the end. If the reminder comes in the form of a trio of songs that sport solemnity on their sleeves, the better.
Even if Itasca is mostly quiet, there’s a lot of good ol’ rock & roll to be found here, with a healthy country chaser, because, c’mon, we love country here. ‘Thinking of you’ is jaunty track that should be in any future mixtape you make for anyone (and yourself). ‘Honey Honey’ throws some serious Red House Painters vibes, mostly the Bridge-Ocean Beach era. It’s probably the loudest (in form) found in Itasca and probably the best precursor for the heartbreak song contained within. This mournful ditty is ‘Trouble and heart’, which opens with the declaration of “It’s about time // we fall apart“. More of an act of resignation/contrition than a last plea for a second chance, it’s a song about putting a final period to a relationship. A couple breaking up? A family splitting? A group of friends crumbling? It works for all of those cases.
‘Queen of Carolina’ is an interesting track. Another short story, centred around the uphill battle that women in music go through. Ageism, sexism and the fleeting nature of fame are all perfectly encapsulated in this album closer. Again, if this were in a mixtape, this would be the end of Side A. You need to end Side A with a downer and start Side B with an all rock out. Things as depicted in ‘Queen of Carolina’ are sadly the norm right now but we know the tape will be flipped one day and the mood will brighten for all.
“The past is gone // the future’s past // you’re better than this // or stronger than that // I’m a wanderer // I’ll never settle down // Push the gas to the floor // and get out of my town” declares ‘Trouble and heart’ in its last verse. It’s great to have memories, unpleasant or fond, of your hometown, but it’s also important to understand that those times eventually go away and you gotta get out and create new bright memories that will also be fondly remembered. This is the beauty in country music: reflection, retrospection and rearranging. Itasca is one of two albums by Actual Wolf albums to come out this year. I think we are in for a treat.
Words: Sam J. Valdés López