Justin M. Wilsey: “Ugly” – vivid and utterly instinctive

Now that I’m getting older, younger artists are starting to sound, well pretty young, and kind of shallow or at best derivative of musicians I’ve spent my life absorbing, while not adding much, if anything at all, on top. Justin M. Wilsey is a different kettle of fish. He has a grungy rock sound, with acoustic and metal smatterings added in. But that’s where the analogies to any past eras end. He blends those sounds into something raw and visceral, with the same confidence, creativity and energy as his forbearers, and it sounds absolutely timeless and unique as a result. Hailing from the Great Pacific Northwest, Justin M. Wilsey has always dreamed of expressing his musical creativity. He taught himself to play the guitar at the age of 13. He subsequently joined a few local Heavy Metal bands in his early years, but never gained much notoriety and the projects fell apart. After a long hiatus away from musical interests, Justin has returned to the musical arena with a renewed sense of purpose.

Justin M. Wilsey delivers sprawling, unpredictable tunes that retain a shrugging restlessness, without resisting the urge to wander far afield from his source influences. He starts with album’s title track, “Ugly”, which lyrically is just that, during the expletive-filled opening bars.

But then Justin’s music is not for the weak-hearted – not in its structure, not in its sonics, and certainly here, not in its lyrics. Justin M. Wilsey’s music is challenging, especially for Top40 lovers. So come prepared, not for catchy choruses and good vibes, but rather for slippery synthesis of grunge, stoner rock, and alternative psych folk.

When the jams start, the record’s creeping sense of foreboding gets the chance to fully emerge; from the dirty overdriven guitar that drives “Better Than This”, to the hardcore vocal growling on “Muse”, and then the dark and angry atmospherics of “Less Drama”.

The throbbing drums and eerie piano loops tighten the chest, as Justin’s reverb-drenched voice, brings a sense of breathless urgency to the proceedings, amplifying the pressure on “I Smiled”. Justin’s audio world sounds vivid and utterly instinctive. On “You Will Never Know” he switches to an alternative psych-folk sound, strumming and picking a brightly strung, jangly acoustic, accompanied by a broken melodic vocal.

On a superficial first listen, it sounds like a new interpretation of an obscure Tom Petty or Neil Young song, but its real pleasures are unveiled with repeated listens, and weeks later, the song will set up a cozy residence in your head as an unusual, but pleasurable earworm.

Depending on your taste, and depending on how you like your alt-rock, this is almost experimental in a way, as there are a few interesting things going on here. All of which lend the recording an air of authenticity, of looseness and candidness, far removed from all the well-rehearsed sugary pop we’re used to on the radio.

Justin M. Wilsey dials back the finesse and pushes towards the boundaries, leaving you with the impression of an artist genuinely expressing himself. The EP, “Ugly”, will be released on March 28th.


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