by Wes Muilenburg (@nuclearwessels9)
Demos exist in a peculiar interim. They are most commonly appended to anniversary editions of beloved classics (or disappointing cash-grabs, depending on your perspective). Someone somewhere decides that these unfinished songs deserve to see the light of day after all. However, there is a beautiful insight to be found in the lesser brother of recorded music. The process of writing and recording songs takes on a new life, breathing power into what might have otherwise been lost.
Chicago’s Ben Grigg understands this potential. The underground mainstay utilizes the new Whelpwisher release, Stale Honey, as a way of exorcizing the ghosts of songs past. Given Grigg’s record – years playing in Geronimo!, one ecstatic Future Biff EP, FCKR JR, and contributions to Milked – there is unsurprising naturality with every song, even demos.
Stale Honey began as the Future Biff record that never was. That doesn’t mean that it is any less engaging. The partnership of Grigg and Kelly Johnson (also of Geronimo!, Milked, and Future Biff) yields nearly endless results. Johnson’s fuzz-laden guitar carves a swath through the songs’ haze. The two solo tracks from Grigg glide by on a ski made of riffs and chugging drums.
“Happy Home” finds a surprising peak in a foggy valley. There isn’t enough time for hesitation as Grigg buries his voice beneath a woozy lead guitar. The word “pay” dissolves as his voice ascends. “Gone” could be a My Bloody Valentine demo and “Someday Back” surprises with a delightfully crunchy riff.
None of the tracks hold quite the same weight as anything on Future Biff’s I Crashed Your Car or even Whelpwisher’s incredibly deep and varied Mercury from last year. However, the minimal recordings prove Grigg’s reverence for their original context. He truly “sets these birdies free” by keeping them as is. The songs crystallize in amber and never stop gleaming.