The piano-led single, ‘Baker Man’, from composer and producer Elliott Wheeler’s debut album, is so unflawed in its expression of loss – of love, of innocence, of both – it was inevitable the remaining eight songs could not rival it. Also, perhaps, the reason they take a different path entirely. Why compete?
Best known for his soundtrack work (most recently for The Great Gatsby), no sooner does the Conservatorium-trained Wheeler step out to sing ‘Baker Man’ – in a high and pure voice that deflects, rather than flaunts, its beauty – that he bows and hands the microphone to five female guests.
Kristin Beradi’s playful torch singing on ‘I’m So Mean’ fits snugly into Wheeler’s self-described “Morricone meets Portishead via Cinematic Orchestra” arrangements. Melodie Nelson’s breathy ethereality (‘Shivers’), Loene Carmen’s heavy-lidded vamp (‘She Loves Him’) and Caitlin Park’s candid folk (‘Tend To Me’) work too, but share little stylistically and, heard as a consecutive clump, risk disuniting the record.
Perhaps Wheeler still has a foot in both camps. That of the professional, there to craft the wind beneath the wings of other artists. And that of solo musician, there to cater only his own voice and vision. When he does the latter, it’s spine-tingling, as on the single but also on the closing instrumental, ‘But It’s Life’, a kind of decelerated, dance-to-the-death tango with vast Bond theme-esque brass stomping us towards an inescapable end.
Like this? Try these: Cinematic Orchestra, Ma Fleur; Boozoo Bajou, Satta.