The Wheel Workers, “Right Way To Go”/“Spidermazes”
Okay, so this feels a little strange. Back in the spring of 2011, I reviewed an album called Unite, by a band called The Wheel Workers that I’d never heard of before but which had seemingly popped, fully-formed, onto the scene, songs and a brand-new CD already in hand. I gave it a listen (okay, several, actually), and I liked it, with some reservations. It was good, and showed a lot of promise, but it didn’t quite bowl me over, not all the way through.
Fast-forward the Tivo of life to now, and I’m sitting here listening to a “new” (I’ll get to the quotes in a minute) two-song single/7″ by the same band; in the time between now and when I first heard ‘em, The Wheel Workers have played a bunch of shows, opened on the Main Stage at this year’s Free Press Summerfest, and most importantly for the purposes of this review, been signed by up-and-coming record label ZenHill Records.
The label promptly re-released Unite last fall, then the band went back to re-record a couple of the songs from the album for ZenHill, and here we are. So what I’m listening to aren’t actually new songs, strictly speaking, but new versions of two of the songs off Unite, “Right Way To Go” and “Spidermazes.” Same people, same structure, same overall sound, the whole deal. Again, it feels a little strange.
That said, after listening to the “Mk. I” and “Mk. II” versions of these songs, I am hearing some differences; they’re subtle, maybe, but they’re definitely in there. And the change sure sounds like it’s pointing to a band that’s found its voice as a unit, which is a very good thing.
For one, while A-side “Right Way To Go” starts off delicate and gentle-sounding, just like the original, with frontman Steven Higginbotham’s Ben Gibbard-esque vocals and a gorgeously fragile, spiraling piano melody line, then the guitars come crashing in, and the song surges upwards into the stratosphere, becoming almost more spiritual-sounding, solemn kin to Coldplay’s “Clocks.” The original version on Unite was a lot more low-key than that, to my ears, content to remain essentially where it started off for the duration.
Beyond that, the overall feel is very different here. Where the original version was thoughtful and somewhat quieter, feeling almost tentative, in a way, this time the Workers sound serene and hopeful, smiling confidently to themselves as they cut the song loose from its tether and let it roar skyward.
Then there’s “Spidermazes,” which unfortunately didn’t make much of an impression on me at all the first time around. It was just middle-of-the-road, electro-tinged rock, nothing real special about it. Here, though, the band’s picked up the pace, transforming the song into a driving, ticking-away slice of sci-fi pop that finally matches Higginbotham’s lyrics about feeling trapped in his own head and needing to get out and see the world outside.
At points it feels like I’m listening to a Placebo song, or maybe (and I know it sounds like a stretch, but it’s true) some never-released soundtrack song from Blade Runner, and that’s no bad thing, not at all. And once it reaches the end, I feel compelled to look back around and start again with “Right Way To Go.”
I have to admit, by the by, that after finally hearing more from this band since I threw Unite in the good-but-not-great pile, well, I think I actually get it now. I do still think the full-length stumbles a bit at points, but as I’ve been re-listening to it again, I’ve found myself liking it a heck of a lot more; it just clicks better with me now, somehow. Whatever the reason, with each release, The Wheel Workers are steadily winning me over more and more.
(Feature photo by Mark C. Austin.)