September 15, 2020
While some albums take their time in building a sonic world, others plunge the audience directly into its depths. From the moment that HNY WLSN’s new album opens with “Sign,” the wobbly synth-organs, restrained percussion, and smooth guitar licks perfectly set the mood for the 22-minute journey that is Swell. The project is completely immersive from the first notes, putting the listener into the dense, groove-filled world that Matt Wilson has orchestrated as HNY WLSN.
Swell is HNY WLSN’s latest solo release since he put out Lakamha in 2017 under the moniker Honey Wilson. The album was born out of the need for Wilson to find an activity to occupy his increasingly indoor lifestyle in the throes of the COVID-19 pandemic. Often a collaborator in various bands and projects, the Charlotte producer/songwriter/multi-instrumentalist had a little more freedom with this collection of songs.
“I am looking forward to getting back to work in a collaborative setting but I also really enjoy working solo,” said Wilson. “Oftentimes in a band setting there is a need to compromise and work with others to create a final product. This album gave me an outlet to explore my own ideas and truly do everything my own way.”
All of the songs on Swell flow into each other to build an immersive, complete album experience. The tracks are mostly instrumental, with synthesizers and drum beats creating looping, hypnotic backdrops for guitars, synths, and vocals to riff on top of. Several pieces, including the glitchy third track, “Benah,” utilize warped and chopped vocal samples that function more as additional instrumentation than as traditional vocal melodies. Wilson attributes this technique to a couple of musicians whom he admires: “One of my biggest influences is Toro Y Moi. I know the tradition goes back further with DJ Screw, another one of my favorite artists. It’s a fun way to add meaning to an otherwise instrumental track and it allows you to try out different vocal hooks that are less obvious in the writing process.”
Nestled directly in the middle of the album, “Tunnel Vision” is HNY WLSN operating at his finest. The song has some of the catchiest and most memorable vocal melodies on the record, while the guitar and bass lines play off of each other to make a simultaneously laid-back and funky structure. It’s the closest that Swell gets to a pop song, with defined sections and melodies that divide the song into familiar refrains while still maintaining growth throughout. As the instruments drop off, the song fades into a calming, tranquil outro before launching into the synth-heavy track, “Room of Forgetting.”
Being a Charlotte artist, the Queen City’s influence can be felt throughout. Album closer, “Wilmore Drive,” features some ambient sounds recorded from when Wilson lived in the Wilmore neighborhood. The album was also mixed by frequent collaborator Matt Reinheimer of Daring Coils and SAVR Music, the latter of which Wilson is also a member. SAVR, which was founded by some of the staff of the old South End Common Market, is a collective of musicians and visual artists who are taking a more collaborative approach to the role typically filled by a record label. “The current line up of artists’ music spans the genre of indie, electronica, vapor-wave, rock, and lo-fi, also including artists that create content in VR,” Wilson said. “The idea we’ve always found to be true is there’s strength in numbers– we all know so many artists and have so many artist friends, why not work together to elevate each other’s artistic endeavors? The goal is to use each other for constructive critique, instead of just an ego stroke, and work together to collaborate as well as promote each other’s releases.” But for now, most things are relegated to being performed solo, and HNY WLSN’s Swell is an album created in isolation that is perfect for helping your own alone time feel a little less lonely.
Listen to the new album Swell by HNY WLSN.