Review: One Wolf – One Wolf II: Secret of the Wolf

One Wolf II: Secret of the Wolf by One Wolf (unsigned, 2010)

Two years ago, when Daniel Markham split from Waiting to Derail, he changed direction completely.  He formed One Wolf, making a remarkable transformation from Whiskeytown alt-country to REM-influenced, Western-tinged rock.  Much like the local peers in Thrift Store Cowboys, Markham had come into his own, producing what could only be described as the sound of Lubbock.  Markham’s skill in pop craftsmanship was honed, but the lyrics were more introspective, the songs slower, sadder, and slightly more rock and roll than country.  It was an audible representation of West Texas; Buddy Holly would’ve been proud.

And now, with One Wolf’s sophomore release, Markham and the boys have done a 180…..again.

I spoke with Markham many months ago during a podcast interview for the now-defunct KTXT-FM.  Some favorite influences of his at the time were Nirvana, REM, Deadsy, and Starflyer 59.  So what’s the new One Wolf record sound like?  All of the above, and more.  In a word, it’s a lot LOUDER.

From the beginning, Markham’s favorites are heard – his guitar is distorted and heavy in the mix, much like Deadsy.  The Stipe-esque strumming is ever present on Secret of the Wolf, and the introspective melancholy lyrics are reminiscent of other sad writers of the past, like Kurt Cobain and the shoegaze of Jason Martin.

“This is the story of what one year will do to you.”  The band describes the album on CDBaby as a tapestry of events and emotions that have delivered this eloquent, somber compilation.  And the result is a somber one, indeed….for the most part.

Take for instance, the opener “Fire Don’t Care,” a song inspired by the fire that destroyed a home that Markham and other Lubbock musicians were bunked in early 2009.  A plethora of band merchandise, including the majority of One Wolf’s debut album, were incinerated.   “Fire don’t care, it only makes you sick/Makes you sick,” Markham laments.  Like “Losing My Religion,” he describes a feeling of insanity, of helplessness, while his deafening guitar wails along in support.

We can hear the influences, but these sounds aren’t merely lifted from their source.  Markham’s pop sensibility continues to improve and develop into a trademark all its own.  The highlight of this, of course, is the instantly memorable chorus of the album’s highlight, “Backyard.”

Sammi Rana’s piano-tuned keyboard floats alongside the chaotic rawk that is Daniel Markham’s guitar, and the solid rhythm section of bassist Brad Ivy and drummer Zach Davis keep the whole thing on course.  While a combination of noise and quiet of this level would usually polarize, the end result with “Backyard” is unique, and, above all, it works beautifully.

TSC’s Daniel Fluitt lends a hand to the chorus in “Everything’s Forgetting,” possibly the saddest, and best, breakup song Markham has ever penned.  Here we can see the full scope of a night of loneliness and the melody it produces.  The ending result is one of level-headed thinking over irrationality and dishonesty from a second party.  It’s also a declaration of moving on with one’s life.  The music, however, conveys the sting of reality and the numbing of depression, of a feeling we have ultimately all felt at one time or another.  It’s the mixture of what we say and how we really feel.  It’s pretty damn perfect.

But we cannot ignore the glimmer of hope Markham provides in Secret of the Wolf, a layer of optimism not usually found in his music.  “Brighter Than the Sun” appears midway, demanding, “Just try your best/Forget about the rest/Your time will come/Faster than the wind/Brighter than the sun.”  And then there’s the grand finale, the live favorite “Something to Prove,” where he declares, “Apathy won’t get us nowhere/So I’ll just keep telling the truth/Cuz it’s all that I wanna do.”

Even here, like the rest of this disc, we can hear an amply-tuned mix of sounds that blend where they normally would clash.  One Wolf provide a landscape of music for the ears to feast on, and it all mixes fittingly.  A banjo alongside a distorted electric guitar captures the band’s willingness to try out new things, as long as it delivers.  And it does.

One Wolf continues to shapeshift as Daniel Markham grows into his own, developing a sound slightly louder this time around.  Now we know the Secret; the band has taken a turbulent year and made into a sometimes sad, but ultimately positive statement.  Along the way, they’ve added an epically-mixed collage of tools from the past to create a new future – a future they seem eager for.  We’re eager too.

A fine tinge of signature studio sounds and shirtless, fist-pumping live shows will keep Markham and Co. around for years to come, and, from the sound of this album, the wolf shows no signs of sleeping.

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