Many of the new artists I discover come from listening to soundtracks for television shows. For example, I first heard Eva Cassidy’s cover of Cyndi Lauper’s “Time After Time” on an episode of Smallville. I heard Alexi Murdoch’s “Breathe” for the first time in an early episode of Stargate Universe. And I first heard Fay Wolf, though I didn’t know it at the time, on an early episode of Covert Affairs.
So when I started listening to Wolf’s new album, Spiders, I knew I’d heard the voice before but it took me a while to figure out just where. But I shouldn’t have been surprised that I first heard her music on TV, as her songwriting and composition style effortlessly combines storytelling and drama in much the same way as some of my favorite shows. Though her style is all her own, my ear can’t help but compare her to artists as diverse as Florence + The Machine and Tori Amos, who also tell stories beneath melodies.
I’ve since discovered that Wolf’s songs have also been featured on episodes of Grey’s Anatomy, One Tree Hill, and Pretty Little Liars. Beyond that, she is a classically-trained actress who has worked in theater, film and television with appearances on Law & Order, Numb3rs, Bones, Ghost Whisperer, and NCIS: Los Angeles.
Spiders is full of emotional honesty but also includes a bit of wit and humor within its lyrics. Wolf includes a bit of explicit language in those lyrics, though, so while her music is amazing it might be best for a more mature audience.
The album starts with two of my favorite songs, “The Thread of the Thing” and “The Passing,” which set things off on the right foot. “The Thread of the Thing” employs the dreamy feel of someone trying to explain how she feels. The lyrics are stream-of-consciousness but hit me like a conversation between lovers as they fall asleep: “And the stories of kings and the needle and the thread of the thing… in a little while I see that I love the way you came on.” Between its steady percussion like a heartbeat, its simple chords and the atmospheric effects, the song really got my attention quickly. “The Passing,” on the other hand, manages to sound very different, featuring Fay’s voice and piano skills. Again, it’s like a dreamy conversation: “See here’s the thing / I love being in motion and wrapped around you… I can hear you / and I can see the time / The time passing / The time passing by.” It’s as though Wolf’s voice tells the story as her fingers dance across the keys.
In the middle of the album, “Pull” just seems to ring true again about (you guessed it) love. This time it’s a bit more outwardly happy in the melody. “But y’figured out that the least you could understand / Your heart is open to someone else’s hand.” Love sometimes manages to pull the breath from us, just like falling down in the snow. But its almost calliope-sounding keys give this song a strong feel of fun while keeping that atmospheric piano behind the scenes.
“In the Way” bears a melody that is at once sad, but honest: “How did we fall in love in a week / And how do we get away / How do we see if the cracks in the plan / Are the reasons that we play the game.” Again, it’s simply Wolf and a piano telling an honest story about romance. Sometimes things don’t work out and “if it’s all not fair, then why are you here.” Sometimes we have to look deeper than the fun we’re having to see that something isn’t good.
Spiders manages to express the complexities of love without seeming trite. I think that’s this artist’s gift, telling stories of love when it goes right and also when it falls apart.
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