Words by Sean Moeller, Illustration by Johnnie Cluney, Sound Engineering by Patrick Stolley
Under the weather for the past week while opening shows for his homeboys Girl Talk and Dan Deacon, Joe Williams was asking about wireless connections when he and his band stopped here. More stressful than any illnesses that could break him apart and make him feel like road kill with a sinus issue that won't subside, is when his various synthesizers and gadgets are claimed by bugs. He whisked into the studio looking for tutorials and online help manuals to guide him through to a remedy - one that he never would find. There was a "death" in the family when Williams - the lean and lanky front man and manipulator of White Williams - was here, but the tour was almost over and he would be home soon so the mourning process wasn't likely to last all that long.
Technical difficulties aside on this afternoon, Williams and the rest of his three-piece played three of the most striking songs from the band's debut record Smoke before Williams decided to work out a new song on the spot. The spontaneity of the moment is not the way he normally works, tinkering and lapping up more and more quality time with his little babies, giving them sideburns, fancy haircuts, earrings, dimples, twinkles in the eye, wonderful aromas and snappy clothing. He dresses them, undresses them, adds more dashes, more spices and tender loving care to them to fill them out into strapping pieces of electro/indie dance hall haze. It's a laborious process that's helped him turn out an album that isn't short on intrigue and perplexing, but welcome eccentricities that never give away Williams' real intentions.
He's of a million different minds, one gets the feeling after listening to Smoke five times through. He's coming from out of leftfield and yet he makes it nothing of an oddity, oddly enough. It's a weird blend of everything that still maintains a simple demeanor that you can believe in and empathize with, understand as something not all that unfamiliar. His fiery dreams are still nice to hear about - as if they're being served with mimosa or Smores. Yeah, it doesn't make much sense, but that's the beauty of it. It's a video game that's gotten into your head (much more complicated than our Snood addictions of five years ago, mind you) and the objectives in the animated world become your own objectives. The implications become your implications and the means to make everything happen can't be separated by a screen or even awareness. Williams seems to present a post-apocalyptic world that still holds onto much of today and maybe that in a way makes it pre-apocalyptic. There's too much dreaminess and too much comforting smoothness to all of the songs on Smoke for it to come before the big disaster.
There's a notion that we all should just let our hair down and sweat it all out - work the toxins out of our pores and shake the rubble and ashes out of our hair. Williams has a dance party on his hands that would involve closeness and that lusty perspiration - downing the mood with a shot of substance that is the furthest thing away from animalistic amore. It's a dance party U.S.A. if one were to stage it immediately following a Kurt Vonnegut or Richard Yates reading - where the future and present day misfortunes and the general malaise of worldly blackness - people treating other people as insignificants, violating decency and playing by all of the selfish rules are bigger concerns than who's going home with whom. The violence that he sings about and the scandalous mayoral indiscretions don't feel like new inventions - the ideas of them at least - but ones that are steeped in tradition. Williams gives them a different beat and interesting contexts - like Cass McCombs pulling a Noah Lennox with a Person Pitch -- all the while establishing himself as a guy who, through all of that attention to detail and sound discovery, is not willing to phone anything in. He's going to be here a while.
Prelude by Joe Williams: "I was really sick while we recorded all of these so the songs all have a strained vocal quality. Some of my most important equipment broke prior to the session so we decided to make up the songs from scratch without rehearsing."