Special thanks to Heather West for the heads up on these guys!
2017 seemed to be the year for bands to be truly prolific. King Gizzard & The Lizard Wizard released FIVE albums… and local LA Band Willodean released FOUR EPs. Come on, guys… you couldn’t do five? Lazy!!!
Awesome Life Decisions came out in February of 2017, followed by Fires, Cars & Autumn Stars in May, Life & Limbo in August and then Awesome Life Decisions: Side Two in November.
The band lays claim to Sufjan Stevens and Wilco as influences (two of my favorites), and I would also add in Beach Boys, The Wondermints and a bit of Del Amitri and Toy Matinee to the mix… basically that Indie Rock/Power Pop I love so much!
I also hear one of my all time faves pop up in a few songs, the somewhat unknown and sadly missed band The Gear Daddies.
This trio is made up of front man and lead singer Abbie Huxley, songwriter Randy Wooten and producer/bass player Eric Holden. Holden and Wooten have been working together for over a decade, when they formed Cheap Lullaby Records and their band The Bloody Lovelies. That label released over thirty records for artists such as The BellRays, Joan As Police Woman, Ivan & Alyosha, Teitur, and David Mead. Impressive list!
The songwriting is smart, the musicianship is tight and Abbie brings a nice Tennessee waltz to his warm vocals. His voice is instantly familiar and reminds me of someone specific, though of course my mind is blanking on exactly who… but at the same time, it is new to my ears.
My buddies and I love to find and share bands with each other, and there are four of us in particular that have similar tastes. It always starts out with a text or message saying… “These guys are SO in our wheelhouse!”
Well, welcome to my “musical wheelhouse,” Willodean!Awesome Life Decisions is pure jangly pop joy and easily something I could have heard coming out of my ‘80s radio. There is a brightness to the record that lends itself to being put on repeat, as the six fantastic songs seem to come and go way too fast. My stand out tracks are “Shy” and “Don’t Give Up,” which also reminds me of The Explorers Club.
The pace slows down a bit on Fires, Cars & Autumn Stars, a slow-simmering, ballad heavy output that has a more folksy feel. It is definitely a great, late night affair. The opening “Afraid I’ll Start Remembering You” moves into “Carmen,” both songs about the loss of love and reminiscing, and clear proof that heartbreak so often leads to some great music. “Sweet Autumn Music” is a nice country affair that opens with a lovely, yearning mandolin. At least I think it’s a mandolin. My favorite track is the bright “Firelight,” which casts a nice country/power pop glow.Life & Limbo has been called “this summer’s breakup album for the modern introvert…” but for me, the pain is blunted by some gorgeous tunes and melodies. I guess that’s what makes a great breakup album… shared pain and revelations and then enough beauty and hope to move us forward! The closing track “Old Friends,“ with its sweeping strings, is a gorgeous lullaby of a song, that may not only lull you to sleep, but give you the chance to dream yet again.
Awesome Life Decisions – Side Two acts as both the rocking rebound record and year’s finale, and is the perfect bookend to this four-release affair. Though ironically, this was the album I started with, and what served as my introduction to Willodean. “Want” is another favorite tune.
This is the kind of band and these are the kinds of records that would make for a great night home, party music, or a long ass road trip. There is a comfort and familiarity at play, but Willodean offers it’s very own take on the music my buddies and I like so much. And as I said earlier, welcome to the wheelhouse! Most definitely hope to see you boys live!