Patrick Wolf is from an alternate universe where Scott Walker became a genre-busting pop star
instead of sliding down the rabbit hole. Wolf’s dramatic crooning and outré sound sources are of a piece with Walker’s, but he couches them in some of the most sumptuous pop appointments this side of a Gwen Stefani song. His third LP reconciles the far-out experimentation of his early work with conservatory-trained finesse, yielding a sort of buttoned-down anarchy that sounds like nothing else.
Wolf frontloads The Magic Position with some of his wildest ideas. After a winning opener with ceremonially pounding percussion and an overclocked hook, the title track sneaks in a brief kiddie chant and the bonging tone you hear when you finish downloading an mp3, before sprightly keys and strings start to churn over exuberant handclaps. “Accident & Emergency” verges on pop-rap parody, with its glitchy sample beds, thick bass throb and strobe-light vocals.
After a jaunty beginning, the album gets moodier, placing more emphasis on Wolf’s voice. The atmospheric dirges retain a sense of dark propulsion, and amid all the haunting chimes, sawing strings and depressive piano fugues, strange sounds proliferate. “Bluebells” is ?ecked with eerie twitters and distant firework screams; “(Let’s Go) Get Lost” uses a phone-off-the-hook tone as its foundation; and “Secret Garden,” an experimental piece for muffled voice, cyclical piano, textural rhythms and incidental strings, veers from noisy pop into abstract realms of pure noise. Complex yet catchy, lush yet groomed, and organically digital, The Magic Position is how pop radio must sound to the brutally insane.