We’ve featured The Wandering Lake, aka Arkansas resident Brian Kupillas and band, several times before here at WTD. Last year saw the release of Wend to Why, their first album as a full band and a record we enjoyed a lot, describing it as, “a sound part indie rock and part psychedelic folk, all weaved together with Kupillas’ distinctive vocals, which are not quite a warble and not quite a croon and sometimes drawn out landscape-scale without a hint of breaking”. Before that, The Wandering Lake was a solo project through which Kupillas made strange and beguiling experimental psych folk, all centered around his charismatically unusual vocals. It sounded like mystical mountain music, hymns to soundtrack the incense-scented mind journeys of a forest-dwelling hermit. As we said back in 2012:
“There is a cathartic element to it, in a lonely late night headphones kind of way, but also in a freaky psychedelic, shamanistic campfire sort of way”
The good news for fans of The Wandering Lake’s earlier releases is that our friends at Z Tapes are re-releasing two of the band’s release on cassette. The A-side is From James’ Garden, which was released late last year in what felt like a period of organic respite after the grooving indie rock of Wend to Why. This becomes clear within the first seconds of opener ‘Field Notes (Variations on a Theme)’, which is all fluttering guitars and Kupillas’ distinctive vocals (which our buds at Cereal and Sounds described succinctly as “akin to a grief-stricken Hamilton Leithauser”). ‘Seven Sisters’ tends more towards a traditional folk song, before ‘When Thinking Long’ begins with a rattling lo-fi ambience and quiet, subdued vocals which have a creeping understated quality, like listening to an old crooner singing sad songs from the lonely apartment below yours. ‘Color Peels’ is similarly subdued, before ‘I Think I’ll Take a Walk’ feels like a marriage of every element from the other tracks, the moment Kupillas brings everything together. It is pretty and odd and heartfelt, a recipe for success in any folk song in my opinion.
The side still has two more lush acoustic tracks to offer, before the B-side of Ashame, first released in 2012. This was the release which first put The Wandering Lake on my radar, and is probably remains my favourite of his releases. First track ‘Horses’ captures the album’s free-form nature, its sense of nature and spiritualism. Kupillas utilises his vocal abilities to their soaring limits, giving the song the panoramic atmosphere of the barren, scrub-strewn landscape on the cover. ‘Water Patting’ is winding and glimmering, as Kupillas sings, “life’s so damn hard for so long”, gathering as it progresses into something that sounds almost celebratory. ‘Ubi Sunt Qui Ante Nos Feurunt?’ sounds intensely devotional (The title translates roughly as ‘Where are those who were before us?’), Kupillas’ voice reverberating around as if sung within a cathedral of natural stone structures, his background coos like the yips of coyotes on the plains.
There’s a similar atmosphere on ‘Laughing Friend’, a song which proves that it’s possible to be both passionate and meditative, the peaks of thrashed acoustic guitar rising from the eerie, cave-like foundation. ‘Little Light’ is piano-based, the keys low and reverbed, the vocals slower and more considered, before the album finishes with ‘Starry Night’ reintroduces the guitar and sounds somehow kind and gentle.
This release is one you really don’t want to miss, particularly if Ashame passed you by first time round. Kudos to Filip and Z Tapes for getting it back out there! You can get the double album on cassette or as a digital download via the Z Tapes Bandcamp page.