Wesley Gonzalez - Excellent Musician
What is the draw of a wax museum? I remember wandering through a Ripley’s in Ontario as a kid and even then being confused by the exhibit. There’s a cruel undercurrent fuelled by this peculiar human desire to gawk at, stand near, or harass the lifeless embodiment of someone you’ll never interact with in reality. In a wax museum, visitors can torture their enemies, clown their idols, or play imagined love. The figurines endure like helpless naked prisoners subject to your perceived emotions toward them – but who really cares? The living version has reached an untouchable status while those shells of organic compounds highlight the distance between your lives, so have your fun. For Wesley Gonzalez, former front man of Brit-Punk trio Let’s Wrestle, this choice to adorn the cover of his debut solo album Excellent Musician with a blank-faced wax-like recreation of his self, selfie-stick-toting-teens included, may be more tied to this cynical treatment of celebrity defacement than some narcissistic statement about his own legacy. The overt title should further tip you off. On Excellent Musician, Gonzalez puts anxieties, masochistic self-deprecation, and biting resentment on full-blown display, filtering these tensions through catchy pop ballads. A sour disposition contained within sweet packaging.
“Growing older sure is a pain / especially when your former self still remains / I can scream, I can yell / I can be such a jerk, I know you can tell” Gonzalez howls on standout “I Am a Telescope” while encapsulating a great deal of the album’s sentiment. It becomes immediately clear that Gonzalez is grappling with the aftermath of a crumbled relationship while simultaneously confronting the quarter-life, deciding to combat these inner tensions by blasting emotions outward for whoever will listen by, more often than not, ricocheting blame on all those around him before once again retreating into a state of self-loathing. We’ll launch from a despicable lyric like, “When did you start living your life as a cunt?” into “I’m a complainer! / You know that I’ve had my fun / I spoke to you about the things I’ve done”. There’s a total lack of stability, and frequently, likeability, that captures the blind selfishness associated with adjusting to adulthood. Hell, the album even opens with the line “an adult, some freedom / what does this mean?” It’s un-self-righteous, but an altogether ugly and vulnerable display, one Gonzalez seems to get away with through a striking pop sensibility.
Excellent Musician is an album rich with ideas. Tracks are frequently underscored by a brass section, a drunken synth warble, and/or a bouncing bass line that all wind up characterizing the musician as some weirdo lounge singer on LSD bursting with rage or emotion or whatever feels particularly important at the time. Who handed this guy the microphone? Is he going to be okay? There’s a sense of unease and worry only aided by the fact that a new earworm is introduced minute by minute. One of the most striking elements at play is Gonzalez’ seeming obsession with the potential for massive contrast between a verse and chorus, encouraging the expectation that the next layer to any given song is just around the corner. For example, “Piece of Mind” wanders through multiple tonal shifts and may be difficult to digest fully on first listen, but after giving the track a few replays, the truly remarkable structure it’s built around begins to reveal itself. While Gonzalez’ vocals punch with a post-punk fervor, the compositional complexity here recalls something very different: The Beatles. Blasphemy! No, not really. Check the outro to so-good-I-can’t-believe-it’s-not-on-the-LP B-side “Come Through and See Me” and tell me it doesn’t trigger the same sort of catharsis as any number of Paul-penned walls of auditory liquid gold.
All these contrasting elements (the shouted vocals, the biting and chaotic lyrics, the smooth jazz instrumentation, the nauseating synth lines) give Excellent Musician an awkward plasticity – a notably clean outer shell protecting a complicated inner sentiment. This is Gonzalez’ way of forcing you to stare at this simultaneously perfect-yet-deeply-flawed caricature he’s developed of himself. If you don’t think too hard about it, it won’t be weird. So come up and touch it. Take your picture. Play pretend. Schandefreude. It’s all built for your fun.