As the Clock Ticks: Wilma Archer’s A Western Circular

Chris Daly goes in on the London producer's newest full-length.
By    April 13, 2020

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Chris Daly won’t easily concede to jake traps. 

On A Western Circular, the debut album under his new moniker, Wilma Archer pulls a quiver’s worth of jazz-based tracks that demonstrate his growth from his former Slime self. Five years in the making, Archer melds his earliest days as an instrumentalist with his later love of electronica to show what the performer/producer is capable of when given the time he requires to create. Whether its baroque chamber pop, funky hip-hop infused strings, late night jams or straight up balladry, Archer and his band of merry men and women clearly are comfortable wearing a variety of different motley stripes.

The album was completed before our current pandemic-induced dystopia, so try not to draw too much from the Depression-era text of John Fante upon which the album is loosely based. Instead, it’s better to realize and appreciate the themes of life and death, greed, love and loyalty, all of which to say that this knowledge helps inform the myriad styles Archer employs to make his musical point.

From the beginning strained strings and tinkling percussion on opener “A Western Circular” which quickly becomes a cello performance piece, it’s obvious Archer is playing by nobody’s rules but his own. Split fairly evenly between purely instrumental and vocal tracks (though the lines tend to blur here and there), the composer/producer/performer never settles into any one sound.

I’ve waxed rhapsodic previously on the slow groove jam, “Scarecrow”, which here acts as a funky buffer before the first guest star enters. None other than the masked villain himself, DOOM, shows up on the DangerDoom-esque “Last Sniff” before it transforms into the stringed instrumental jam, “Killing Crab.” While the album may have taken a half decade to complete, this is not to say Archer has been doing nothing else. In addition to working heavily with Nilüfer Yanya (contributing seven songs to her debut album) and new UK singer Celeste, Archer spent quality recording time with Sudan Archives, and she returns the favor with sumptuous vocals on the Jon Biron-sounding, “Cheater.”

Future Islands’ Samuel T. Herring makes multiple appearances, on both “The Boon” and “Decades,” which not surprisingly, bring to mind Herring’s work with BADBADNOTGOOD, another jazz ensemble that tends to take the road less traveled.

While such different sounds and guests could make for a disparate ride, A Western Circular instead comes across as a sampler of an artist who feels comfortable trying on multiple coats of many colors as he takes listeners on this musical journey. Steeped in jazz sensibilities, but not at all afraid to venture into near Frank Zappa territory of out-there-ed-ness, “A Western Circular” shows that Wilma Archer has a lot to share. The journey ahead looks more than promising.

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