Let’s face it- modern life is hard. We’re overloaded with information, and decisions, and disappointments, and it’s taking a collective toll on our mental health. This modern malaise is the overarching theme of Ben Wallace-Ailsworth’s new album, I Like To Worry. Ben’s project (called If So, So What) is stacked with a number of very talented and notable musicians, including Primus drummer Jay Lane, Ben Levin and Courtney Swain from Bent Knee.
Following the contemplative, free form album opener “Chabot” is the spirited, funk-inspired “Seen This All Before”, which is an instant highlight from this album. The catchy melody throughout the verse, sung by Ben Wallace-Ailsworth, Austin James Hicks, and Courtney Swain, is accented by cleverly syncopated drums and bass. This song, though it deals with several very tough topics, is extremely catchy and has a melodic line that you will be humming for weeks. “Scam of Self Control”, another album highlight, features stellar instrumental work and the distinctive lead vocals of Austin James Hicks.
One of my favorite songs on the album is the stunning jazz instrumental, “San Leandro”. Saxophonist Josh Smith is the highlight of this track. His tender playing is complemented by fantastic work by Ben Wallace-Ailsworth on bass, Ben Levin on guitar, and Hamir Atwall on the drums.
Sonically, this album covers a lot of ground. Though the bulk of the album could be characterized as alternative, psychedelic funk (due to the strong emphasis on drums and bass throughout, and the improvisational feel), there are several songs that feel more like free-form jazz (“Chabot”, “San Leandro”), and others that remind me in parts of the post-rock stylings of Mogwai. As a fan of Kentucky bluegrass, I was pleased to hear the shuffle and violin in “Sky is Falling”, only to be pleasantly surprised by the big chords and cymbals during the chorus. Lyrically, the album focuses a lot on the apathy that comes as a result of disillusionment, either overtly or through a layer of humor (the words in “Basket” come to mind), and the struggles that come with mental illness.
One of the defining characteristics of this album, for me, is the atmosphere that Ben creates. It’s simultaneously tight and sloppy, intentional and improvised, and these paradoxes create a pleasant but unsettling vibe in several parts- one that works well with the album’s themes of mental illness. I remember several years ago, I was listening to “Coast to Coast” by Elliott Smith, and as I listened to the slightly out of tune instrumentation and his distorted voice, I realized that he was painting a sonic portrait of his despondency. Even with the humor and levity that is found on this album, there is a thread of resignation and sadness that hits me, both as someone who comes from a long line of mental illness, and a millennial who was promised the world but inherited loads of existential worry instead.
I Like To Worry is an insightful look into the challenges of modern living, and an album that deserves your attention. Check out If So, So What’s Bandcamp page.