Wilsen - Sirens [Album]


From Brooklyn, New York, comes Wilsen – a band who are trying to push the boundaries of modern folk music with their 2012 debut album, ‘Sirens’. The band’s recent move from Boston to the urban-artist’s utopia of Williamsburg and Bushwick seems to have given them a sense of empowerment. In these neighborhoods, where everyone is some sort of combination of artist, musician, hipster, and entrepreneur, it takes a lot to stand out. But Wilsen has risen to the challenge, and with this self-released debut they mark their territory as disciplined musicians who play simple, beautiful folk music. The group formed at Berklee College Of Music where Tamsin Wilson, who was born in London and raised in Canada, met drummer Dan Drohan, bassist Drew Arndt, and guitarist Johnny Simon Jr. Wilson serves as the group’s evocative vocal centerpiece and songwriter, and together they aim to serenade listeners with their fresh approach to folk-pop. Their sound has been dubbed, “dream folk”, and each song is indeed a musical journey that guides the listener through a different folk fantasy.

This album doesn’t feel run of the mill– it paints rich colors through its explorations in tone, melody, and subtle arrangements. ‘Sirens’ has a wealth of variety that stems from Wilson’s vision. It is the flexibility of her voice and her reach as a songwriter that sets this band apart. The album starts ethereally with ‘House on a Hill’, a song that simmers for three and a half minutes and then the clean electric guitars distort for a more urgent ending. The second track, ‘Dusk’, demonstrates how Wilson’s voice can beautifully move between melodic phrases. As much as any track on the album this song shows off Wilson’s capacity to cast vocal inspiration onto simple arrangements and adorn it with her carefully produced tone. The percussion on the track, which includes a dancing glockenspiel part, rises slowly so that at times it is more felt than heard. This tune gets its character from the simple beauty of an acoustic guitar alongside catchy vocals and an airy instrumental accompaniment.

The middle section of the album flirts with the darker side of folk music, starting very much in the minor key, with ‘Lady Jane’. Deeper still is ‘December’, a track that brings finger picking and poetic lyricism more commonly associated with classic folk music. You’ll be caught by surprise when, at its conclusion, Wilsen morphs into a rocking blend of Arcade Fire and The Velvet Underground. It is an unexpected transformation, but one that the band manage to pull-off. More variety comes on ‘Springtime’. We see them, a band that undeniably lies on the softer side of folk, lay down a tentative beat! For fans of the Dirty Projectors, this song will reel you in. Drohan’s drums keep your head bopping and the guitar tone is reminiscent of something Jack White would create, despite this the band never loses sight of its folk pop sensibility.

More of Wilsen’s simple folk beauty reveals itself on the short instrumental, ‘Prelude’, before the album closes with the ten and a half minute musical odyssey, ‘Anahita’. It is an absolute embodiment of Wilsen’s sound, and a fantastic representation of the essence of ‘dream folk’. It starts with a simple, sparse guitar and vocal arrangement before moving into a powerful section where Wilson sings, “keep your eyes closed, there are still some miles to go”, and there certainly are! Thus, the dream that is Sirens continues all the way through this long finale. About seven minutes in, the song drops back to a gentle guitar, which gives space for the sound of crickets, followed by silence. In this calm passage, you, the listener, become the band and the fantasy continues in your head until the voice returns and the album closes with the ambient sounds of waking.

This album is contemplative and charming. Wilson’s strong vocal performance would have one believe that she is one of the “sirens of the dawn”, about whom she sings on the title track to the album. Furthermore, the band perfectly matches the mood that Tamsin Wilson’s voice suggests. ‘Sirens’ is like a velvet of deep maroon; dark yet warm – the feeling you get when you find yourself perfectly content beneath a blanket on a rainy day. More from Wilsen cannot come soon enough.

By Mitchell Manacek