Musical mastermind Patrick Watson—a recipient of Canada’s Polaris Prize in 2007—has returned in 2009 to offer up Wooden Arms. A dreamy collection of lush and inspired arrangements, Wooden Arms recalls Andrew Bird’s warm, delicate vocal range and intricate instrumentation. The title track’s haunting waltz opens up from a nostalgic piano into the ominous droning of pitched percussion, reminiscent of Tom Waits’s “Clap Hands”—all rimmed with melancholic plucked strings. “Hommage,” a two-minute instrumental track, renders a meditative orchestral interlude. “Machinery of the Heavens,” the album closer, nears seven-and-a-half minutes and works its way from sinister, Crumb-inspired strings into a warped but sentimental piano.
As concerned as he seems to be with the songs themselves, Watson appears just as concerned with the sounds that extend beyond the basic tunes and changes. Straightforward moments, like the “Hommage” interlude or the opening track, “Fireweed,”are just as abundant as the sounds that are somehow manipulated or somehow less familiar. Distorted piano, affected vocals, glissandi, and the sound of the wind whistling all carve out a sumptuous sonic environment. The songs certainly stand on their own, but Watson makes them sound incredible.