“Folktronica” may be the most contradictory musical oxymoron permeating the modern musical landscape. Juxtaposing the most organic and synthetic genres seems like a recipe for disaster, and yet, the it’s somehow worked surprisingly well for a subset of modern, electronically-inclined folk artists. Whether it’s indie darlings like Bon Iver or acts like Four Tet, The Books and Juana Molina, the boutique style has spurned some incredible innovations for a genre that’s as rootsy as it gets. Save for perhaps Animal Collective‘s web of artists, the key to a successful combination of these genre’s disparate elements is subtlety and commitment; the synthesis needs to feel natural and convincing, as if the listener is listening to something fresh and individualistic rather than just some electronics draped over a folk ballad. On his latest album as Mt telegraph, Jonah Senzel executes this formula beautifully, producing a concise collection of ambient indie folk tracks that are perfectly accented with an eclectic range of electronic tinkering. In Waves is an early highlight for the year that folk fans would be wise to expand their horizons with.
Similar to Wren Kitz‘s excellent 2017 gem Dancing On Soda Lake, each of the nine tracks on In Waves work from a modern folk foundation and add beams and rafters crafted from rich, polished lumber with plenty of metal ornaments as accents. Senzel proves he knows that composition shouldn’t be secondary to mood. From the careful blended evolution of electroacoustic ambiance into acoustic guitar on opener “Going” to the flourishes of contemplative Radiohead-isms on “Trust Me,” the transition and packaging of electronics and folk elements are seamless throughout. Similarly consistent is the pure beauty of the album, furthered by Senzel’s crooning vocals reminiscent of Sampha. There’s never a moment that loses grip of the album’s overall air of serenity, grace and confident poise. And as an added bonus, the album is accompanied by an equally poignant poem penned by Senzel, apparently titled “A collection of waves and cycles in life”:
I climbed my way up the little telegraph hill
passing days amongst the trees
to see a mountain I had made along the way
days grew to years on the peak
a wave following downward
washing towards the earth
At the mercy of nature
igniting the will to begin again
pushing through repeated existence
epiphany seeps in each day
until I wake so changed
I must confront the levity in each breath
In Waves is a lush tapestry with multifaceted strengths and endless wonderment. Senzel offers an exceptional early reputation for Mt telegraph, with a small taste of the beauty he’ll undoubtedly produce in the future. Folk needs artists like Senzel to continue to progress the genre and broaden what ground the sound encompasses. Mt telegraph is a project to watch, but for the moment, In Waves is an album to celebrate.