Although there's a lot of backstory that would be easy to disregard as pure promotional fodder, the tales behind Patrick Wolf's debut album Lycanthropy are worth a condensed repeat simply because of his age. Supposedly a world-weary traveler who started writing songs at age 11, the now-18 year-old plays multiple instruments (violin, accordion, ukelele, piano) and arranged this (his debut) release on a shiny new laptop. The result is a album that is both literary and pretentious, at times it works as well as the best that I've heard this year and at others it simply feels like it's trying too hard. In the end, it doesn't really matter how old Wolf is, because this is one of the more enjoyable debuts I've heard in some time.
Oh yeah, and there's something about Wolf becoming an animal of his namesake as well, but that can probably be dismissed as hoo-haw despite his rather large eyebrows. After an opening track "Prelude" of soft horns, accordion, and sound samples of wolves, the album starts off properly with "Wolf Song" and the track works just about perfectly. Over soft ukelele, violin, recorders and double bass, Wolf croons a lovely song about putting up defenses, and while it might be a little on the weird side, it works well. "Bloodbeat" brings the first real signs of electronics into the release, and rattles along with glitchy beats while basslines bump and lyrics really take flight. "To The Lighthouse" mixes both the electronic and organic in a sublime way, layering accordion and strings over skittery programmed beats to punctuate the track at just the right times.
The album veers back and forth between more straightforward folky type stuff ("Pigeon Song") and more electronic (the almost dancey "Don't Say No") but only stumbles a bit during the middle couple tracks on the release. "The Childcatcher" is overbearing both lyrically and musically despite tackling an interesting child myth while "Demolition" stretches things out to almost 6 minutes and can't quite sustain itself. "Paris" redeems any weak spots soon thereafter, though, mixing super-harsh programmed beats with strings, accordion and overly affected vocals that work quite well. It might be the poppiest track on the album but will definitely stick in your craw.
In a couple other places the lyrics get a little bit silly, but it's no worse of an offender than much of what I've heard. Even on the messed-up vocal quartet glitchery of "A Boy Like Me," Wolf manages to pull things off with sheer gusto. While his overly-affected vocal stylings may take awhile for some to get used to, I found Lycanthropy to not only be a well-developed album for a person of his age, but one of the more varied and creative albums that I've heard this year yet. Hopefully it doesn't take him 7 years to complete his next release.