There is something in the sound made by Wanaka that gets closer to the actual essence of what music making is really about than most artists out there today. Technology has given everyone access to music-making and the ability to hide behind digital aids. What I love about Glycerine is its simplicity. Perhaps simplicity is not quite the right word, there is nothing simplistic about the song, and maybe purity is better.
Purity because it sits in a healthy place on the musical spectrum between directness and sonic adornment. Between the sound of a song played live and the benefits of the studio. Between the sound of the honest busker and the poise of a produced song, it is slowly transitioning from one to the other as it warps additional tones and textures around itself.
And that is the art of the appeal. You take a song which can exist on its own as a simple song thread, something made in the mould of singers across the modern age, from 60’s coffee shop folkies to the more produced acoustic-pop stars of the present moment. You then gradually swathe it with all manner of sonic layers – in this case, additional vocals and washes of cello, gentle beats and shimmering waves of percussion – until it has risen from the realms of functional folk music to gorgeous alt-folk grace and grandeur.
But, even once Glycerine has built up its weight, long after it has moved from a simple solo rendition into something more poised and expansive, you can still hear the song underneath. And it is the song that should always come first.
Too many artists use the studio as an excuse to cover up the fact that they didn’t have much of a song in the first place, that they can make up for any failings by throwing all manner of gimmicks and gadgets at the recording.
What works so well with Glycerine is that no matter how polished and poised it gets or how much sonic grace or musical groove is added to the proceedings, you know that underneath it all is a good song. A great song, one that can be delivered as just a voice and guitar or presented as a more ornate piece of folk-pop. Either way, it is just as enjoyable, and that is the real test of a song, in my opinion.