Lee Harvey Osmond
Seamus Hamilton-Pattison January 4, 2016
Tom Wilson (Lee Harvey Osmond’s lead vocalist, songwriter, and bandleader) has been making music in Canada for more than three decades, first in Junkhouse (known for the grunge-y, unreasonably catchy “Out of My Head” and that neat music video for “Burned Out Car”).
This, Wilson’s latest musical venture, is self-billed as “acid folk.” The eclectic variety of instruments used lends a certain experimental feel to the music, as does the free-flowing, jam session-esque structure of the songs themselves. However, Beautiful Scars isn’t quite as trippy as the band’s self-ascribed genre would have you think. What Beautiful Scars is, is a masterfully composed and executed melancholic folk/blues record. At times, it’s stylistically comparable to Leonard Cohen, but far more wild and intimidating.
The album’s longer tracks tend to use the densest instrumentation. “Loser Without Your Love” and “Black Spruce” both feature extended breaks meant to showcase soulful guitar licks contrasted against flute and alto saxophone solos. This isn’t some gratuitous show of virtuosity however: in fact, above all else, Wilson seems to prioritize restraint for himself and all who play on the album. Every solo is tasteful, the instrumentation varies appropriately from song to song, and no movement feels rushed.
The undisputed centerpieces of Beautiful Scars are, of course, Wilson’s voice and words. Wilson’s commanding, hoarse baritone is ominous, yet soothing. More importantly, his timbre is the perfect fit for the brooding folk music under it, and a perfect vessel for his cynical, poignant lyrics. The album’s best line can be found on “Hey Hey Hey,” where Wilson croons, “It’s a shame the world is so fucked up, and so are you and I.”
There truly isn’t a bad song on this album, but “How Does It Feel” stands out as the release’s masterpiece. The slow, atmospheric song is driven entirely by a sole acoustic guitar and Wilson’s vocals, sung near the bottom of his register with an ominous rumble, that carry lyrics based around lost love and isolation.
Beautiful Scars is a dark, elegant, and introspective record that’s been executed with musical prowess and a great use of subtlety throughout. It’s omission from so many “Best of 2015” lists released by music magazines thus far only shows how many are missing out.