November 14, 2017
If you’re familiar with Carl Sagan’s Pale Blue Dot, you’re aware of his views detailing the arrogance of self-importance (aka humans and our brazen egos) as primarily meaningless, pointless, and stunning if we take the time to fully realize it. Everything we love, or have assigned any importance to, ultimately spins, magnetized on this burdened sphere which we’ve made heavy from hanging all our dreams and dirty laundry on. Or, as Sagan calls it, “on a mote of dust suspended in a sunbeam,” and there’s not much more to it in terms of grand prizes or finish lines. One day we’re here fighting on Facebook to be the Most Correct, the next day everything is nothing and our homey bit of dust has moved on, abandoning all the accolades, double-tapped hearts, and regrets we’ve accumulated into the ether.
Elonzo Wesley’s newest album entitled simply, Spec, brings to mind these complex simplicities. The literal definition of a spec is “in the hope of success but without any specific instructions.” Doesn’t that just about sum it up, cosmically? Most especially at home in the galaxy realm is the title track which shuffles with humble and ashamed knowing, “just a spec of a speck/ it all makes perfect sense/ the giant nothingness.” The track is careful and softly plucked, easy-going and sweet. It feels like a quiet aftermath that comes with the acceptance of our futile, damaged selves. Wesley wants you to know that there’s no reason to be upset with it all, they for one, are just happy to have been here.
What’s also new from Elonzo Wesley is the expansion from solo artist to full band. Alongside Jeremy Davis (vocals, guitar), Spec is the first album to have Taylor Winchester (mandolin), Dennis Contreras (bass), and Alicia Driver (violin) altogether. Jeremy is quick to point out that with the added perspective and immense talents of each bandmate, songs off Spec have come to life in a way he would never have been able to create on his own. This is certainly true for “Texas” where the full band creates a comfortable pleasantness for Jeremy’s lyrics to find a friendly face in. Each instrument flourishes in a choreographed dance, stepping into center at just the right moment to create balance and momentum throughout the track.
A theme throughout the album is the reference to feeling a void inside. For instance, the maudlin “Virginia” cries “I gotta hole where my heart goes/ I fill it with the people I know” with a lonesome swell. The loneliness is revisited again on “Plastic Memories” where over soft guitar chords and a splendor of violin/mandolin, Jeremy finds himself wandering in the great nothingness of the human consciousness. Would it all be better if we were plastic, fitting into a factory-setting mold, so we could finally shrug off the thoughts of why and what for?
One of the most significant tracks is “Emmanuel” which discusses the 2015 shooting in Charleston’s Emmanuel Church where a young white male murdered nine people while they were praying in church. The song is simple, stripped back and to the point, I assume because the subject matter is so gut-wrenchingly horrible that there was no need to embellish. The hook repeats throughout the song, “nine people dead in a church by the sea” with a soft, shocked sigh.
Spec displays heartbreak, love, despair, and hope in a warm and comfortable way, like a friend who just needed to get a few heavy thoughts off their chest, and we’re all that friend sometimes. Melodies within the album pace themselves, quietly encouraging that we take time to make time. The friendship undertones, brought to light via the band’s new sound, gently reminds us that even though we are indeed all alone, we can find acceptance and compassion in that common ground. Spec says to be good to each other. To try your best, everyday, and sometimes we all stumble but its friendship and love, the only things that matter, that will keep us going for our fleeting snapshot of time on this pale blue dot.