In this day and age it can be quite common to hear of a successful album made in a bedroom, recorded on one mic, or written on a train with only a Dictaphone, a kazoo and a loop pedal. Well, maybe not the last one. But here we have the multi-instrumentalist William Southward AKA Wasuremono with his second album Are You Ok? It’s an album that can boast the not-so-unusual but still noteworthy fact that it was solely written and recorded in his shed.
Something that is clear from the album, even at first glance, is that it deals heavily with mental health. Looking at the track listing, the songs could be chapters of a self-help book, with titles like: Are You Ok?, Lonely Type and A Lesson to Learn. But sure, isn’t that what art is about? As Kathy Bates, playing Gertude Stein, in Woody Allen’s Midnight In Paris said: “the artist’s job is not to succumb to a despair but to find an antidote for the emptiness of existence.”
You can find many hopeful refrains throughout the record, always with an eagerness to address the listener. Early on, the chorus of School sings: “we’re gonna find a way to sort it out,” while in Self-Help the singer repeats the line: “we will find you / we will / we will work it out.” The latter song is playful and tranquil in its instrumentation, with a choppy melodic bassline and airy synths laying the ground for a very reassuring lyrical sentiment. Choosing to say “we” will work it out gives the whole thing an inclusiveness, while the many layers of vocals act as a large group hug in choir form.
The lo-fi, or in-shed, sound gives the record its homely carefree feel. This is a key driver in keeping the sentimental content from becoming too inaccessible or too drab. This accessibility is helped by the fact that every song on the album is the original demo, giving the tone of the album a fresh human vibrancy. From the dreamy surf-pop of the opening track Are You Ok?, to the tropical rhythmic chug of New York, it is overall a very joyful listen for a record dealing so blatantly with deep cognition and emotion.
To think of Southward toiling away, delving deep into the psyche and clawing out from within him some semblance of hope – all within a wooden shed down the back of a garden in rainy England – is a beautiful image. Like some sort of nutty professor of the human condition. However, to be frank, this album also, while peddling laid back grooves, occasionally tips ever so slightly into the more dull side of things. Tracks like Don’t Play With Ghosts and A Lesson to Learn drag a bit. But all in all, Are You Okay? is a very personal, original and refreshing piece of work, that, while small in its construction, is large in its effect.