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Trevor Wilson by Jesse Alejandro March 31st 2009 Delicious

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Trevor Wilson On Myspace

Plants And Bodies

Providence, RI

Listening to Trevor Wilson's latest album, Plants and Bodies, is like coming home to cookies after an ass kicking on the playground. It's catchy melodies and rich arrangements would lift the spirits of Sisyphus mid rock tumble.

To put it plainly, Wilson's voice is butter. All of his vocals, from his croons to his howls, are revelatory, particularly when compared to the affected, vibrato-less, imitation-Bright Eyes vocal style that pervades modern independent music (the most talented offender being Sufjan Stevens). But it is when Wilson sings high, particularly in his falsetto range, that bumps begin to goose up a listener's skin.

While the album's lyrics aren't the most profound, Wilson's delivery justifies them. The magic of his voice catapults the words further than they would travel beneath the breath of a lesser singer. Like a Stevie Wonder or Michael Jackson, Wilson's voice could add urgency or poignancy to "Mary Had A Little Lamb."

That Plants manages to use similar timbres throughout much of the album (piano, chorus, bass and drums) without boring the listener bespeaks Wilson's strength as an arranger, especially an arranger of vocal harmonies. Songs like "Bitter Passage" are elevated to epic proportions via Wilson's use of backing choral voices to flesh out the soundscape. The same choral timbre is used for different effect on "Mighty Spruce," in which the chorus plays a game of call and response with Wilson's solo vocals, giving the song a tinge of childishness akin to the kindergarten sing-a-longs that reverberate in the memories of Wilson's generational peers.

Occasionally Plants saunters out of conventional time signatures. These rhythmic forays are always organic, never gimmicky. A listener must pound a fist to his chest and count in time with the music to discover where Wilson has deployed his irregular meters. Wilson's melodies and harmonies slide over this rhythmic undercurrent like sharp skates on a frozen lake.

The smoothness of Wilson's rhythms are especially sweet when viewed in light of the other big acts utilizing irregular meter, particularly Radiohead and Sufjan Stevens. Whereas those acts highlight the jerky nature of uneven time signatures, Wilson builds more traditional textures above the underlying beat, creating an internal rhythmic tension and resolution that grooves. On "Patient Eyes," Wilson uses long organ notes to create a wash of sound that serves as a familiar counterpoint to the driving 5/4 beat below. "Bitter Passage" uses irregular time more overtly, although it is still easy to swallow because of more long notes intoning familiar major harmonies.

The second half of the album is an almost complete about-face from the first half. The big band and chorus are gone, leaving only Wilson and his keys to tell the rest of the story. And even the story has changed; the album's lyrics, which through song five were primarily about plants, shift to focus on people, like "Bodies."

Considering how successful Plants's opening songs are, with their compelling, lush arrangements, it's something of a mystery as to why the last six songs on the album feature only piano and voice. It isn't that Wilson's sweet vocals and quirky melodies can't carry a song; they certainly can, as evidenced on "Astronaut," a funny tune about the bulky, spaceman-esque attire of a snowball-thrower in winter gear. It's just that the opening five songs are so wonderfully ambitious with their grand choruses and rhythmic contortions. The listener is simply left wanting more.

Still, Wilson's overpowering musicality and the beauty of the album's opening half make Plants and Bodies a success. When Wilson's strong voice is paired with a big arrangement, his songs are as good as they come.