AR Wilson: Old Gold Album Review

Andrew Wilson is like the friend who keeps bombarding you with obscure Wikipedia articles, each more confusing than the next. He brings a propulsive but ambiguous energy to his new-age releases as Art Wilson and his catchy ringer-funk jams like Andras Fox, giving these discs an air of mystery through enigmatic titles and atmospheric instrumentation. Wilson is particularly fascinated by the baggage that comes with his hometown of Melbourne: “I love unraveling the little contradictions in the way Australians record and present music,” he said. DJ Magazine in 2020. “For example, why use the call of the common loon in studio tracks, when we have the greatest diversity of songbirds anywhere on Earth here in Australia? Why call our music Balearic when we have over 50,000 kilometers of coastline unique to us?

To that end, his final outing as AR Wilson, old gold, delves deeply into a specific quadrant of Australian history: the Victorian Gold Rush of the 1850s. For Australia, this period is generally credited with placing Melbourne on the world stage; the colony’s booming economy brought about 90,000 new immigrants each year at the start of the boom and confirmed Australia as the gold-producing behemoth that remains today. In Wilson’s hands, the gold rush is not just a story of colonial prosperity; it shifts the focus to the starvation of beggars on the plains and the unwarranted displacement of indigenous groups. He spins this yarn using the barest palette imaginable, all lonely MIDI banjos and chirping artificial crickets, weaving his way through a history lesson one Casio thumbnail at a time. It may not be Wilson’s most developed music, but it makes up for it in sheer imagination.

Above all, old gold is a world-building exercise, a task Wilson undertakes like a LARP to a foam sword. “Moonlight Flat” gallops on a metallic, twangy stomp that conjures up images of Final Fantasy coal townswhile tracks like “Raisins” and “A Long Day In The Saddle” could have come straight out of the Oregon Trail with their comically crafted acoustic guitars and spaghetti western castanets. There is an undeniable relationship between old gold and recent online microgenres like comfortable synth, especially in the way they both use cheap chamber instruments to sketch out playful juvenile scenes. Like much of the work that comes out of the cozy dungeon synth/synth communities, Wilson’s songs have a clunky medieval edge, like on “Metal, Want, Die,” which begins as a sad ragtime piano roll before moving on. to a Renaissance-Fair-ready guitar wail. Rather than building any kind of climax, Wilson simply lets his melodies lurch in their lo-fi languor, like a digital music box caught in a flickering loop.

Clearly, old gold is not for everyone. It wouldn’t have hurt Wilson to vary his palette a bit (if only to add detail to this thumbnail image of 19th-century Australia), and there’s an inescapable feeling you’d probably get could make this music yourself. Depending on your perspective, this simplicity can be either a turn off or a refreshing embrace of DIY. Either way, it’s hard not to be charmed by the silliness of Wilson’s vision, as well as the nuanced approach he takes to understanding this period rather than purely romanticizing it. If nothing else, the record is certainly a whimsical addition to the quirky world of Andrew Wilson.

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