When Wymond Miles set off on his own with his 2012 solo debut Earth Has Doors, the result displayed plenty of talent but did little to differentiate Miles from his band The Fresh & Onlys, causing many to write him off. As such, his 2013 follow-up, Cut Yourself Free, largely flew under the radar even though Miles ventured far away from the garage rock he was known for towards a more gothic art rock. One big step on that album was exercising his voice, indulging his pronounced baritone, embracing its theatrical qualities. It was a step towards a destination that Miles continues to strive for on his latest release, Call By Night. The result sheds all pretenses of playing it safe, Miles’ most distinct and ambitious album to date.
Where Cut Yourself Free dabbled in scorched-earth desolation, Call By Night is immediate and inviting. Miles has a knack for grand melancholy, and from the onset of opener “Summer Rains” he puts forth a ‘70s psychedelia devoid of irony or detachment. Miles plays up classic rock tropes in a way akin to Dan Bejar, a sound that could easily devolve into kitsch if he didn’t sell it with the utmost sincerity.
A willingness to commit fully is essential, especially with music as haughty as this. “Solomon’s Song” could easily fit on a later-period Nick Cave album with its gothic gospel melodies and subject matter: standing before God, waiting to be judged. Call By Night is replete with soaring pronouncements as this, where the stakes are grand and the gestures grander. Known primarily for his guitar work, Miles pivots towards more stoic, piano-centric songs reminiscent of Leonard Cohen. When paired with restraint, such as on the title track, it can lead to stately, elegant results, but at times the bombast can be overbearing.
An album filled with struggles both internal and external, Call By Night brims with tension. He rails against violence on “Protection” and the Devil himself on the grand closer. Miles explained in an interview with Noisey that the record isn’t autobiographical, but it also contains his most personal song to date on lead single “Divided in Two”. Miles explained the song was influenced by stories of his father’s time serving in the Vietnam War and the resulting PTSD that followed. Written nearly 10 years before he finally recorded and released it, the song is a thunderous ode focusing on the bonds between fathers and sons, wrestling with the concept of honor. In Miles’ words, it’s a way to look at trauma as not just personal, but generational, a lofty goal that results in the album’s affecting centerpiece.
While there are many familiar signposts intact, Miles doesn’t wallow in nostalgia, even as he embraces styles often forgotten in indie rock today. He looks to the past as a template to process the present, understanding that there is rarely a clear dividing line between the two. Regal and stately, his music exists resolutely outside current trends in indie rock. He has more in common with label-mates Iceage and Cult of Youth in their grandiose adoption of haughty drama than the garage rock that most associate with The Fresh & Onlys. This yearning to create something that isn’t stylish is admirable, showing his willingness to take risks in an era where so many play it safe. Call By Night is a work of grand ambition, and even though it doesn’t always live up to its influences, it’s an encouraging work from an artist willing to break the mold.
Essential Tracks: “Divided in Two”, Call By Night”