Until now, singer-songwriter Erik Voeks had one album to his name: Sandbox, released in 1993 on Rockville Records, the label that released the first three Uncle Tupelo albums. A pervasively melodic collection of power-pop that holds up well today, Sandbox was long treated as a lost masterpiece by music fans in the know.
It disappeared a few years after its release (until it was digitally re-issued in 2013), and Voeks disappeared from public view too, except here in Kansas City, where he settled about two decades ago. He’s been a fixture on the local music scene, in record stores where he’s worked and on stages where he’s performed intermittently.
Voeks’ second album has now been released on Hanky Panky Records, a small label based in Bilbao, Spain.
So the Wind Won’t Blow It All Away should get attention as the second coming of a reclusive pop genius. Except that it, too, is likely to be treated as a secret. In our information-overloaded era, reclusive geniuses don’t feel that reclusive and minor masterpieces seem a dime a dozen.
Still, it serves Voeks and his second album well to treat them like quiet treasures to share among listeners who care. That’s how the album feels. Its 13 songs aren’t trendy and fashionable. They don’t scream for attention or try to wow us with flashy moments. Instead, they gravitate towards internal observations and external expressions of emotion, be it devotion, anxiety or disagreement.
The album follows a musical trajectory from bouncy to pensive – though even when the songs are bouncy they’re pensive, and vice versa. It starts with some witty power-pop numbers recalling the likes of Squeeze, Elvis Costello and Michael Penn. There’s a song, with big, crisp, attention-grabbing guitars, about a girl deemed “most likely to chillax,” and a jangle-pop song about someone loving jangle-pop more than she loved the song’s protagonist.
But it won’t take listeners too long to grasp that the songs are more emotionally complex than their instant-gratification choruses and harmonies at first suggest. “Tired of Feelin’ Alone” wears its melancholy proudly while driving forward with carefree vigor. “Grey Rain Town” takes a mid-album step towards prog-rock without casting aside the bubblegum melodies and daydream harmonies.
The last quarter of the album is when the downcast side takes over. The pace slows, the guitars stretch out and Voeks’ vocals often sound caught up in their own memories and concerns, as if his voice itself is pondering the weight of the words. Even within this climate, Voeks has a way of making sure irresistible melodies are always at the forefront.
The album’s final number describes endings as beginnings. “The ending of the ending … isn’t always the end,” is the message given to us by stars, appearing in the sky even after they’ve died. With the guitar sounding open and curious, the song concludes the album with an open question hanging in the air: What’s next?