Tread carefully in to Oliver Wilde’s bewitching world because you’ll need your wits about you. The Bristol-based artist’s extraordinary songs are as dark as they are uplifting, as unsettling as they are soothing and as harrowing as they are hauntingly beautiful. Getting lost their warm wooziness is easy, but the deeper you delve in to their sensual layers of carefully-orchestrated, analogue-aided electronica, the more they reveal. Emerging with your emotions unscathed isn’t an option.
Oliver’s eagerly-awaited third album, the poetically-titled Post-Frenz Container Buzz, marks a significant sonic step on from its revered predecessors, 2013’s A Brief Introduction To Unnatural Lightyears and 2014’s Red Tide Opal In The Loose End Womb. The 27 year old hailed a modern-day Nick Drake and compared to everyone from Beck and Bright Eyes to MBV and Deerhunter has broadened his sonic palette and sharpened his songwriting on an album on which he set out to subvert the concept of pop.
“My first two albums were fairly simple,” says Oliver. “There was no attempt at arrangement, for example. These new songs are the first I’ve developed fully, using all that I’ve learnt in the last few years. It’s easily the most accessible music I’ve ever made.” Forthcoming lead single Good Kind Of Froze, about how perceptions of ourselves differ from how other people see us, has already made its debut on Radio 1 and been championed at 6 Music by Lauren Laverne, Steve Lamacq and Marc Riley.
“Good Kind Of Froze contains the most elements of my previous music, my ‘bedroom downer pop’ as I called it,” says Oliver. “But it also introduces my move in to a new space. “In the past, I built atmospheres in which to bury the dark subject matter because I couldn’t face it full on. This time, I took the clichés of pop – the structure, the form, the earworm hooks, the emphasis on rhythm – and made them ugly in order to address wider demons. “You’re So Kool-Aid, for example, has a catchy tune, a beat and a bass synth. It’s funky, but it’s about suicide. Putting a subject people shy away from in to what is dressed as a pop song makes it easier to talk about because it’s in a familiar, comfortable, nonaggressive setting. And if you don’t look too deeply in to what the song is about, it’s just a nice tune that people can attach their own meaning to.”
Some of the subject matter of the new songs is personal, relating to Oliver’s recent life, a relationship break-up and his on-going battle with Cardiac Sarcoidosis, a rare heart disease with which he was diagnosed shortly after releasing his second album, which put his career on hold for almost two years. Two of the tracks, the gently dreamy Goner and the wonky, hypnotic Big Black Chunk, are obviously romantic. Elsewhere, for the first time, Oliver looked outside his own life for inspiration.
“There are a lot of mental health and gender issues on this album,” he says. “My first two albums were all about my own plight and search for inner peace. This time I wanted to use the privileged position I’ve been given to tell other people’s stories too. Smothered, for example, has silly synths, but also a chorus in which, if you look for it, a horrific incident that happened to a friend is contained.”
Every song tells a story and all, unsurprisingly, come with exotic titles, some more cryptic than others. Klooker’s Feathered Trill, which nods to The Beatles’ White Album era, was inspired by a man Oliver met years ago while working as a handyman in a nursing home. “His name was Jack Klooker and he became a great friend,” recalls Oliver. “He’d worked as a banker during the war and led this extraordinary, opulent life. I used to go in on my days off just to hear his stories. One day he read me a poem that described frost as a feathered trill. It was an epiphany for me in my writing. It taught me the power of a metaphor. A trill is a quivering sound, like a violin played as though it’s fluttering. It has no connection to frost and yet it captures exactly how frost looks close up. That sound could be used to describe something visual had such a profound effect on me that I had to pay tribute to him. The song, in fact, is more my interpretation of what it’s like to grow old. I mean, I’m only 27, so I’ve no idea. But I do know that this grand old man could wake up in the morning and not know his own name.”
Some of Post-Frenz Container Buzz was written while Oliver was in hospital, unsure to what extent he would recover. At least half of the vocals on the album were recorded on to cassette with his trusty old mic in the bathroom of his hospital ward. He was desperate, whatever happened, to make the third album he had in his head.
And now, still ill but on the mend, with a fantastic new six-piece band that features dual drummers and two synth players to cope with the album’s rhythmically-driven songs, the reluctant perfomer is almost looking forward to getting back on stage.
“We’ll have to overhaul the staging to reflect the new, er, slinky disco sound,” he laughs. “Someone suggested lots of PVC. Will I be dressing up? Haha, no chance. I’ll still be the scruffy guy fiddling around with my pedal board of tape machines, swapping cassettes to sample live. Some things never change.”