Wire Mountain is the sixth solo album from Centromeric and South San Gabriel frontman Will Johnson, and his first with Austin label Keeled Scales. From the dark and thunderous ‘Necessitarianism (Fred Merkle’s Blues)’ to the warm and husky ‘Cornelius’, the record sees Johnson at the peak of his powers, all the weary heart and emotion of the starkest country songs electrified with snarls of guitar and Thor Harris’s pounding drums.
Harris isn’t the only talent Johnson calls upon across the record. Lindsey Verrill (of Little Mazarn) provides vocals, banjo, cello and fiddle (check out the outsider ballad ‘Gasconade’ to hear these in full effect), and Jon Dee Graham brings lap steel and electric guitar.
The result is a sound at once sentimental and burned-out, as severe and achingly unadorned as the cover image from photographer Matthew Genitempo. ‘A Carousel Victor’ is all gathering atmosphere and negative space, while ‘Chimera’ is an instrumental that growls with electric guitar as thick and black and staticky as towering thunderheads.
There are tender moments too, most notably on the record’s second half. Songs like ‘Shadow Matter’ and ‘Need of Trust and Thunder’ are the closest things get to alt-country ballads while the piano-led instrumental outro ‘(You Were) Just Barely You’ slows things down in a beautifully reflective finale. But perhaps the standout is the confessional ‘Solitary Slip’, a patient song that’s full of bare-bones poetry. It’s a great example of the mature and affecting songwriting across the album as a whole, and marks Wire Mountain as yet another triumph for the Keeled Scales roster.
A solitary slip
Honey, can’t you see
I do the best I can, here
I meant it all along, dear