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J. Allen - Wonder City

  by Andy Cassidy

published: 14 / 9 / 2012

J. Allen - Wonder City
Label: J. Allen
Format: CD


Inventive and intelligent human to urban loneliness on debut solo album from New York-baded singer-songwriter, J. Allen

From the opening swish of traffic on 'O My Love', J. Allen’s 'Wonder City' builds gently, a hymn to loneliness accentuated by the sound of a cityscape alive with people. Allen’s is a very specific type of loneliness, the type that one can only achieve when one is, paradoxically, surrounded by millions of people. 'O My Love' is a plaintiff acoustic ballad, lamenting lost love in an epic swell of emotion. The song’s intensity bubbles under the surface until it explodes after three and a half minutes into an angst-fuelled cri-de-couer which will either leave the listener scrabbling for the volume control or screaming “More! More! More!” Happily, I was in the latter camp rather than the former. Title track 'Wonder City' opens with a sort of urban tone poem, a musical approximation of the city at its busiest and wildest before returning to the opening track’s theme of loneliness – “There’s millions of people, but no-one’s around, ” sings Allen. It’s a sentiment which, if not handled correctly, could sound glib and mawkish, but one gets the impression that Allen’s solitude has a life of its own outside the vocal booth. 'Wonder City' is 'Homeward Bound' for the instagram generation, its washed-out backgrounds painting an almost pastoral picture of a city moving in blurred frenzy while the protagonist stands still, aloof and alone. For me, the standout track is 'Heavy Head'. It has a true bedroom recording intimacy about it and its understated performance highlights Allen’s gorgeous vocal over a straightforward acoustic guitar. Throughout the album, Allen’s vocals are superb and his acoustic guitar-work is reminiscent in places of Nick Drake – indeed, had Drake plied his trade in early 21st century Manhattan, this is exactly the sort of album he would produce. The album’s sound design is the true star of the show, however: it is inventive and intelligent without being overwrought or pretentious. This is Allen’s first solo effort, but he has released two full-length albums and two EPs with Meanwhiles, a project with his brother Todd. In my opinion, however, this album stands head and shoulders above Allen’s work with Meanwhiles – 'Wonder City' is very much a personal testament and a vision which Allen has shaped and realised almost single-handedly. Wonder City is a hugely enjoyable album. Its themes are immediately recognisable to anyone who has ever felt alone and adrift in a strange city. Rather than wallowing, however, in the melancholy of such a situation, Allen celebrates loneliness and leaves the listener with the feeling that it’s maybe not so bad to be alone.

Track Listing:-
1 O My Love
2 Wonder City
3 Afterglow
4 Heavy Head
5 Radio Tower
6 Other Side of the Day
7 Halsey St.
8 Rain and Thunder
9 Half the Sky

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