If you drive alone on certain roads in certain parts of the Southeastern United States, you will, eventually, come to a strip of country where no terrestrial radio stations come through clearly. The only music to be found there, if you’re looking for music, is a shifting mutant, a composite of talk channels, country, Top 40, and intermittent static. It might feel, as you look around, as if everything nearby is corrupted and braided this way: the trees, half-dissolved in fog; the road, holding the charred reflections of occasional streetlights; passing houses, lit starkly from inside. It’s from here that Brice Woodall‘s new record seems to beam, this place that’s always giving way to a second place. It’s called ‘The Searcher’, because that’s what you are when you’re in it: an unfixed point drifting across an unstable map, searching. Brice’s first, and a new offering from Sower Records, Brice Woodall joins a stable of dedicated songwriters and open artistry.
A native of Newport News, Virginia, Woodall spent years immersed in Chicago’s vibrant community of singer-songwriters, playing the stages of beloved venues like Schubas and the Beat Kitchen before returning to his home state. His music — electroacoustic pop inflected by ’90s rave genres, centered on adventurous vocal melodies inspired by Björk, Beth Gibbons, and Thom Yorke — embraces the chimerical, collaging together an assortment of recording techniques and fidelities to create a rich sense of place.
Recorded with longtime collaborator Steve Barber (a former bandmate in Brice Woodall and the Positrons) across several months in 2020, ‘The Searcher’ unstitches some measure of wonder from the numbing sameness of the year. Songs like “Western Skies” and “Stay In Static” explore the places where consensus reality starts to break down: legends of cryptids, aliens, and other visitors that reproduce themselves in hopeful retellings. Inspired especially by local folklore around The Mothman and Indrid Cold, these songs explore what drives people to believe in what sounds impossible, to reject the agreed-upon world and burrow into their own stories. The record’s spacious, echoing production and uncanny instrumental tones mimic the thrill of disorientation that comes from suspending disbelief.
Like much of Woodall‘s prior work, ‘The Searcher’ takes the fragility of experience as its main theme — the feeling that the world available to your senses is always one shock away from dissipating. It’s a fitting reflection of a tumultuous year, a present that no longer quite seems continuous with past and future. But under that shadow, Woodall‘s songs vest hope in the creativity and tenacity of other people. “Sound Bomb” pays tribute to the protesters who saw and seized an opportunity to shift the mainstream narrative around racist police terror this year, while “Don’t Be Afraid (Please & Thank You)” and “We Let It Go” speak to the human ability to keep searing open a way forward in time, even as the future seems increasingly to collapse in on itself.
There’s no real telling where this road we’re on goes. With ‘The Searcher’, Woodall offers up a reminder that it’s not the arrival that counts. It’s the way we track the path, the way we press our foot to the gas even though our headlights only bore a few feet forward into the mist.