Three years ago if you had described an artist’s music as “lyric heavy upbeat synth-pop” and asked me to guess who it was, I would’ve given you about 50 names, none of which would have been Andrew McMahon. Yet here we are, a far cry from his Jack’s Mannequin days. However, McMahon’s experiment in the wilderness has proved to be an uphill journey rather than a downhill tumble.
Andrew McMahon in the Wilderness had a lot to live up to. McMahon rose to fame with his first band Something Corporate in the early 2000s, and following that was a successful solo project titled Jack’s Mannequin. McMahon is renown for two things mainly, his mastery of piano and his way with words, neither of which are lost on Andrew McMahon in the Wilderness, as different as the soundscape of this record may be from his previous releases under different names.
“There’s only one mistake that I have made/It’s giving up the music in my fingertips/By trying to get to heaven through my veins.” This record is as lyrically potent as McMahon has ever been, although, surprisingly, many of the songs are a clear move away from his tradition of writing autobiographically. After his battle with cancer, Jack’s Mannequin became an outlet for McMahon, and many of the songs were very clearly about that time in his life. Obviously, songs such as “Cecilia and the Satellite” (written for his newborn daughter) and “See Her on the Weekend” are directly based on his personal experiences. However, album highlights such as single “Canyon Moon” and closing track “Maps for the Getaway” tell a story different than his own. Despite the fact that these songs are probably also influenced by personal experience, its nice to see McMahon experiment with his own songwriting abilities.
What I found most impressive about this record was McMahon’s ability to balance his new sound direction with his traditional piano. It would have been very easy (and very tragic) for the piano to get buried under the all the synth used on the record. However, the mixing on the record is superb and no sound is lost. The combination of synth and piano creates new opportunities for McMahon, and he uses them to his full advantage such as in “Halls” when he uses really funky piano riffs to complement the electronic sound that pulsates under the lyrics. He also indulges in songs like “Rainy Girl” in which he ditches the synth all together and just sticks to piano. Andrew McMahon in the Wilderness is the perfect example of an artist who understands the changing industry around him and is able to adapt without losing his roots.
This is a record both for McMahon fans and newcomers who are interested in discovering some good new indie music. This is his crossover record into the modern independent music industry. Something Corporate started when punk ruled the scene and McMahon was able to take that genre and combine his style and affection for piano into it to become a success. If this record is any indication, Andrew McMahon in the Wilderness will do it again, this time with electro-pop.