Wolf Gang is the one-man moniker of Max McElligot and this month announces the arrival of his ten-track debut album ‘Suego Faults’. Both lusciously arranged and extravagantly produced 'Suego Faults' is something of a puzzler, and is destined to divide with its dreamy meanderings into genres and influences far and wide.
At the very heart of all that Wolf Gang creates and combines are his singing styles. Wolf Gang's varied vocals are often interchangeable: occasionally Bowie-esque, sometimes inflected with a touch of Freddie Mercury and at other times resembling those of MGMT’s Andrew Vanwyngarden (which doesn’t seem so surprising considering that Dave Fridmann – the producer behind both of MGMT’s albums, as well as those by Flaming Lips and Mercury Revs – produced 'Suego Faults.') Yet it would be unfair to only talk about McElligot in terms of reference points and influences, as he does manage to successfully combine these to create the lavish style that defines this release.
Away from the vocals, there’s a certain aura of the supernatural that surrounds the entirety of 'Suego Faults', from the Patrick Wolf-like costumes he adorns on the album artwork, to the lyrical evocations – as ‘Something Unusual’s “We’d be something out of this world, that we’ve never seen before” demonstrates. And then there are instrumental moments throughout the release that could take on a life of their own as a film soundtrack, particularly one such as ‘Labyrinth’. Yet it’s not just the Bowie tonal direction that gives this impression, it’s also the decade-spanning dizziness that encompasses Wolf Gang's debut: from the Kate Bush style vocal jumps on title track ‘Suego Faults’ to the continual falsetto-stylings that depict those of Mika.
The album’s merits rest on the fact that McEilligot is a multi-instrumentalist who plays each of the instruments himself: guitars, piano, drums, glockenspiels and all. As such ‘Suego Faults’ in an album that is very much his own, and this certainly shines through. ‘Stay And Defend’ is a track that particularly highlights his mastery of the piano, from the tinkling at the start through to its prominent chords during the chorus. Debut single ‘Lions In Cages’ with its familiar double-tracked vocals and programmed drumming is already a synth-soaked summer staple, and current single the upbeat ‘The King And All His Men’ is another standout track, one which shows off his further capacity to morph into a modern-day Mika.
But ultimately, with all these influences and styles thrown into its 40-minute running time, it’s hard to actually pin down a style and sound of Wolf Gang’s own. There’s a lingering sense of clutter surrounding the album, and despite repeated listens, the arrangements – albeit wonderfully textured – are so dense that it’s hard to actually retain many of the songs' melodies and structures. As such standout tracks are the two current singles, purely because they are the slightly simpler songs, the ones that – by Wolf Gang’s standards anyway – are stripped back from the excess of over-instrumentation.
While his clear talent, and his ability to command his many instruments is certainly commendable, there’s an overshadowing sense that if McElligot had reigned his enthusiasm for multi-instrumental orchestration in a little more, it would have made for a much more coherent and ultimately more memorable release.