We asked Kevin Wenger of Sea Patterns to write about Sean Wilson’s dynamic new album “Chalkboard Kids”. They were classmates through Bel Air Middle, they graduated Loyola and Bel Air High respectively.
By Kevin Wenger
I’ll start by saying that I’ve known Sean since we were in kindergarten together. I’ll get to the music in a second, but I just need to say some non-music related things first. Also, you should know that I am biased because we’re best friends. All serious journalists need to give these kinds of heads up.
Sean and I had our earliest musical experiences together in the Ring Factory Elementary School band. I played Oboe and he played Sax, we spent alot of time wetting reeds together. Thank god we moved on to cooler instruments or else I probably wouldn’t be writing this. All due respect to the wind section, but I think Sean really hit his stride when he picked up a guitar, and a lot of that is evidenced on this album.
I’m not gonna give some overwrought analysis of what the album is about in toto, because the album jumps around quite a bit. There’s a pretty nice mixture of ambient loop pedal explorations and solid well written pop songs. “Air Traffic” comes early in the album and starts with some deep churning voices and noisy mathematical guitar work. It really helps to vary the textures of the album. The levels are kept low, but Sean’s six stringed prowess is still audible.
The pop songs are the ones I find myself returning to.
“Radio” is very reminiscent of Ray LaMontagne’s slow strummed guitar ballads about lost loves and hitchhiking, and has some lyrical similarities with lines about motels and highways, but Sean keeps things heady and surreal with his lyrics on this one. Even knowing the kid as a friend, I’m not sure I could tell you what he’s singing about, but you get the general idea of heartbreak on “Radio” and combined with the pedal steel, that’s enough to make me emote.
“Honey Melt” is another solid pop song. A bit of 60’s psychedelic folk rock influence here, especially with the wandering surreal lyrics. It also has some of Sean’s strongest vocal deliveries, as he really gets his point across screaming “and don’t try to watch your back”
The album mixes pop and ambient works, like Olivia Tremor’s unrealized filmworks. “Through Words” has some really amazing vocal layering and almost didgeridoo sounding bass rumbles. It makes me think of an Australian sunrise or something like that. I’ve never been to Australia, but I imagine that listening to this song is probably pretty similar to being there.
“Cat” is also a high point. The production is really incredible considering a bedroom pop album. He doesn’t go for some lo-fi aesthetic when he knows the songs can be done justice through a bit more production, and the drums that kick this one off sound incredible.
If you want some nice well written pop songs to jam to, or some ambient explorations for hypothetical Australian mind-voyages, I would strongly recommend Chalkboard Kids. I have a lot of respect for Sean as a musician, and I’m eager to see where he goes from here.