When the ringing guitars of the title track chime in, it’s clear that the debut from Jack Sharp’s “solo” project won’t disappoint fans of his former band. Indeed, these 10 songs could easily have been recorded by Wolf People.
‘The Carrier’ plays on current fears about infection, but also speaks of being a humble vessel for an ongoing musical tradition. The classic rock riffing of ‘No Difference’ evokes Queens Of The Stone Age, but Sharp’s plaintive singing roots it firmly in Olde Albion. Amidst the insistent fuzz guitars, acoustic textures and shifting, quick-quick-slow rhythms, the spare, questioning ‘How Far’ stands out, reflecting Sharp’s early love of hip-hop and resembling a DJ Shadow loop with a trad-folk vocal. The melodic twin guitars of ‘Hold Onto’ recall Wishbone Ash, while lilting ballad ‘Marceline’ suggests Dragonfly-era Fleetwood Mac. With every track coming in at under four minutes, The Canier is a succinct distillation of folk-rock magnificence.
A record so steeped in the hairy traditions of late-period psich it should come packaged in an Afghan rug and reek of patchouli oil. It’s Bedford’s Jack Sharp (Wolf Pople), swathing downbeat wooziness in folk harmonies and impeccably wigged-out playing. ‘Marceline’ is a bluesy Peter Green shuffle, ‘No Difference’ captures the momnet when the post-hippie comedown was chiselled into Deep Purple granite. And Ghost Box veterans seekeing their fix of the weird will delight in ‘The Witch’ – “She came, she came / In quivering flame”. Effortlessly magical.
Late last year, a new band called Large Plants put out a fabulous cover of Madonna’s La Isla Bonita as a single, and Shindig! magazine made it their Single of the Year. A wonderful slab of hard rocking psychedelia, it followed in the path of such classic unexpected covers as Dinosaur Jr’s version of The Cure’s Just Like Heaven and Sonic Youth’s epic deconstruction of Into the Groove(y) as Ciccone Youth, and took a pop classic, roughened up its smooth edges and created something more powerful from what was left.
Large Plants obviously knew what they were about, so it was no surprise, therefore, to discover that they were, in fact, the brainchild of Jack Sharp, lead singer of English psych band Wolf People. For those unaware of Wolf People, they are (or possibly were – the band announced they were on indefinite hiatus in January 2020) a band best known for a very folk-oriented psychedelia, who released two excellent albums back in 2010, Tidings and Steeple, both of which successfully channelled the sound of early ’70s UK folk rock/psych pioneers like Pentangle and Traffic.
Later albums moved into a slightly more prog and even hard rock direction, with the influence of Black Sabbath being mentioned by both reviewers and the band themselves, but to my mind their best work was on those early albums where they wore their love of folk rock on their sleeves.
Throughout all their albums, though, the songs were anchored by Sharp’s guitar playing and his plaintive, often melancholy, vocal, and this new album continues in similar vein.
Opener, and title track, The Carrier shows Sharp has moved on, though not in the way you’d be forgiven for expecting if you’ve heard his 2020 almost trad folk solo album Good Times Older. Instead, the song begins with echoes of CSN’s most gorgeous multi-layered vocals, and is as sweet a slice of mellow psych as you’re likely to hear this year. The guitar playing’s understated and subtle to match the wistful vocal, but on other tracks, Sharp lets rip with his signature guitar solos, with echoing vocals draped across the top of scuzzy, fuzzy, dirty hooks.
The pre-publicity calls the album a set of ‘heavy psychedelic rock belters‘ but I think that’s inadvertently doing it a bit of a disservice. There’s more to this album than just rock monsterdom – sure there are some great guitar lines on offer here (I Lie Awake in particular thunders in a way which I imagine is awesome live), but there are also hints of the baroque, shades of Canterbury, nods towards the more whimsical side of ’60s English psych (listen to The Witch and tell me you can’t hear all three elements at work).
The Carrier an impressive package all round, and one that could easily end up on a few Album of the Year lists this time round.
We Are Cult
First came Paul Weller in 2020, now comes Jack Sharp of Wolf People’s new project to Ghost Box: the record label that through analogue electronics, folk and psychedelia mines the eerier sides of sepiatinted nostalgia. The Carrier comes across like a late-’60s soundtrack to an underground biker film that occasionally veers towards horror – Uneasy Rider, perhaps? With every overdriven guitar riff, meaty drum roll and West Coast harmony recorded by Sharp on his own in 2020’s Covid summer (Deerhoof’s Chris Cohen then mixed it last year). It’s largely great fun, its combination of heavy rock and Californian sunshine working best in the chase-scene vibes of No Difference and Don’t Let Me Down. Softer songs like Marceline and Hold Onto also charm, but float away after a while, as does the smoke of certain herbs when exhaled.
Folk-rock gone spookily psych in Wolf person’s ’70s dream Large Plants, the solo project of Wolf People’s Jack Sharp, announced itself last year with a cover of Madonna’s “La Isla Bonita”, finding a weird psychsploitation heart beating at the core of Madame Ciccone’s Latino dream. On The Carrier, he follows through on that single’s psych-pop promise, though the surprise here is the distinctly folk-rock lilt of Sharp’s voice and melodies. It’s a compelling conundrum – T2 and Fairport Convention collaborating on an album for the Fading Yellow series, perhaps – but even that doesn’t account for a song like “Wreckers”, which pivots on a see-sawing riff that’s pure Groundhogs.