One of my favorite parts of this gig is being forced to eat my hat. There are few better feelings than having a band that formerly generated listless shoulder shrugs, gaping yawns or outright revulsion issue an album that upends previously held opinion. What music fan wouldn't love having their socks rocked while spinning tunes instead of wishing you could be doing anything else, including mending holes in those socks? There's also the chance that a shift in the listener's personal filter has moved towards the artist as the stars align in a warm 'n' fuzzy sonic love-in. Very much a possibility, but isn't it always better to simply blame the artist for previous transgressions? Take a peek at the interhole and some of the unempathetic vitriol that gets posted when bands are forced to cancel shows/tours, push back record releases or when merch gets delayed in the post. It's pretty obvious artists often get blamed for things outside of their control, so why not continue to pile the undeserved shit on?
This is not to say there's been any ill-will harbored from my desk in the direction of Dallas' Wo Fat at any point during their 20-year reign on planet stoner/doom. It's just that whichever of their previous works that have shown up on my desk have gone in one ear have gone out the other. No foul, no harm, no revenge ploy, no kidnapped babies; just a lack of Wo Fat's discography hooking into any part of my auditory cortex. They were over there doing their thing. Your humble narrator was over here eating heavily buttered bagels. Everything was cool as we paid each other no mind. Then, along came The Singularity.
From the off, the band's seventh full-length puts a heightened sense of, well, everything on display. There seems to be more animated vitality bristling in the fuzzed-out guitars, more throbbing warmth in the low end, more swirling colors turning up on their mood rock, more swagger and swing in those moments when they choose to beat the gas pedal and rev the engine. At various times during album opener, "Orphans of the Singe," images are conjured up of sermons by snake-charming charlatans, the confused looks of the crew of the Nostromo listening to pre-Civil War field hollers, a juke joint blues jam and the closing climactic moments of a Cathedral festival gig. Similarly, "Overworlder" sounds like the comforting embrace of Starsky and Hutch after being rolled in a dark alley for your Church of Misery hoodie by Orange Goblin's front-man-mountain, Ben Ward. Herein lies the new album's crowning achievement: its ability to elicit different visual landscapes and pictorial settings in the mind's eye with a flick of the wrist, the smack of the drum, a step onto the pedal board and the lengthening and contracting of vocal chords.
The album's title track drops a hearty meat and potatoes stoner metal riff a la Sleep's Holy Mountain and makes surprisingly abrupt shifts between an upbeat shuffle and loping looseness, both of which are positively Sabbath-like. "The Unraveling" has a riff that rips and tears like a dune buggy crashing through Baja sand banks with a chorus that's half-Voivod, half-Clutch and a protracted lead guitar boogie-woogie that Billy Gibbons and Frank Marino would excitedly sword fight over in order to claim as their own. "The Witching Chamber" may not take you to whatever a witching chamber is, but the mood is straight out of '80s Maryland and '70s chest hair with some slinky aquatic guitar wailing complementing a stuffed-pants strut that Don Cornelius would have lost his shit to.
Also advantageous to the experience of The Singularity is how Wo Fat are able to maintain the listener's attention over the course of 76 minutes divided between a mere seven songs. These include the aforementioned "Overworlder" at 12-foot stomping minutes, and "The Oracle" which starts off siphoning from a Woodstock chill out session (complete with hippie percussion track and jittery axe effects) as it taps sizzling acid rock and subdued abrasion reminiscent of Funkadelic's Free Your Mind and Your Ass Will Follow/Maggot Brain-era and evolves into a 16+ minute jammola that would make both vintage Carlos Santana and Brant Bjork proud.
It is to imagine that long time Wo Fat fans will read all of the above and be like, "No shit, Sherlock; they've been doing this sort of thing since Dubya Bush was wiping his ass in the White House." Yes, they have, but there's something more cohesive and sprightly about The Singularity and the way it electrically combines wild-eyed freedom with the trappings of bluesy stoner metal. There's a clicking and gelling that these ears don't recall from the band's past. Maybe I'm wrong? Remember that talk of shifting filters? Maybe it's a true case of George Costanza's 'It's Not You, It's Me' at play here? Whatever the case, there will some reinvestigation into the band's past, assuming I don't choke while chowing down on my head gear or that The Singularity, being one of the best albums of the year, releases its steely grip on my ol' grammophone long enough.