The Red Brain, out on Coax Records now!
Wax Mannequin has garnered a widespread cult following by creating interfaces with listeners outside of style or convention. Since the early 2000s, he has performed his surrealist folk songs on many festival stages and international tours. Throughout eight albums fusing heavy riffs with ornate prog arrangements, anthemic pop hooks, and dark humour with a spirit of compassion, Wax Mannequin (a.k.a. Chris Adeney) has forged a uniquely absurdist approach to indie rock. The Red Brain is a culmination of his work – an artfully personal song cycle inviting audience members into Adeney’s world through cryptic yet emotionally vulnerable lyrics capturing his experiences with neurodiversity.
The Hamilton, ON-based musician’s occasionally confrontational live performances have been central to Adeney’s ongoing project of connecting with (and challenging) audiences when traditional forms of socialisation seem insufficient. “There’s a recognition of one’s place in the world as an outsider – a feeling that you have a voice and a vision in a society that’s very malfunctional and bizarre,” says Adeney, who as a child was diagnosed as having a constellation of cognitive differences. “The world isn’t always receptive, and it can feel like you’re speaking a different language. But through trial and error, and finding common ground, you can slowly build deep channels of communication.”
Wax Mannequin began recording The Red Brain shortly before the pandemic, working with producer Corwin Fox (Sarah Neufeld, Richard Reed Parry) at his Hidden Well studio on Vancouver Island. When isolation orders were put in place, the album was completed over months of long-distance file trading with overdubs such as cello, Aaron Goldstein’s pedal steel, and guest vocals from psych-folk artist Eiyn Sof adding vibrant hues of hallucinogenic symphonic flourishes. These lengthy stretches of listening, layering, and re-organizing allowed the project to fully blossom.
“When I perform live, my songs are slightly different each night, depending on the room, the audience, my mood,” he says. “That’s true for me with recording as well. Being able to mull things over really helped the songs find their form, whereas in the past I might have felt rushed or frustrated enough to settle on something not quite finished.”
Back in 2004, writer Carl Wilson noted in The Globe and Mail that “crowds are often baffled whether to be awed, irritated, or amused by Wax’s all-rockets-flaring, un-Canadian-like extravagant performances.” About experimenting with both his and his audience’s expectations, Adeney says, “sometimes I would be horrified afterwards, and sometimes I would be elated.” Years of pushing through this addictive cycle helped Adeney refine and clarify his craft — seeking a point of connection through wordless language, all thoughts gone in the present moment.
“Music and performance, at their best, bring the artist and the receiver to an interface that’s beyond style or even content,” Adeney concludes. “I’m not good at narrowing my scope for easy listening or casual conversation, though I do mask pretty well in professional settings. There’s probably a lot of masking that goes on with everyone. We’re always hiding our inner monologues or the dream states that we carry with us throughout the day – I look for ways to express these… and connect through them. That’s the hook that has kept me writing and performing all these years.”
Wax Mannequin The Red Brain Album Guide
The Red Brain begins with “The Obelisk,” as Adeney’s deep, inviting voice is trailed by the steady strum of a guitar, jangling riffs, and the warm glow of an organ. Struggling with a Brian Wilson-esque feeling of not being made for the times, he sings about how “we turn a blind eye to looming existential threats in order to maintain chaotic, quasi-functional domesticity.” In its choruses, the song travels to a far-distant future where obelisks are constructed to laugh at humanity’s plights, highlighting Wax Mannequin’s fantastical, sci-fi world building.
”Wrong About You” is inspired by Adeney’s experiences as a student and elementary school teacher of language, arts, and drama. Barreling ahead with a soaring guitar solo, triumphant piano melody, and chorus of multi-tracked vocals, he turns his focus onto a student that is alienated for not appearing to thrive. Yet once the child returns home, they are able to deftly model the consciousness of those around them using metal wires found on the floor. “Sick Boy” (originally written by Raghu Lokonathan) completes this thematic trifecta with Adeney’s additional lyrics about “kids, classrooms, and noticing our mistakes a bit too late.”
The album embraces a wide range of stylistic forms with the stately strings of “The Red Brain” colliding with the corrosive folk of “Even Then,” where Wax Mannequin sounds like Neutral Milk Hotel with an extra dose of psychedelic fuzz. “Reasons We Came” turns its spotlight on the tumbling drum fills of percussionist Bradford Lambert, as its rhythmically chanted lyrics discuss the action and energy needed during times of transition, warning how blind optimism can cloud our vision. “Love Is A Hunter” is Adeney’s dramatic cover of a song by Coax Records founder Rae Spoon, while “Things to Do With Rage” reworks an empowering anthem about channelling frustration into constructive acts of creativity, originally appearing on Wax Mannequin’s debut album 23 years ago.
“Not The Worst It Gets” drops Adeney’s electronically processed vocals into a sparse pool of echoing pianos and subaquatic beats. While closing the album with a message of hope, it maintains the melancholy realism at the heart of his lyrics. “For me, the end of a depressive cycle is tranquillity,” he says. “Concepts that were incredibly burdensome become objects you can set down and contemplate before they pass into dust.” Yet in moments like these when we are bogged down by our own problems, he reminds us how easy it is to ignore the challenges of everyone else around us. “There’s a peaceful numbness at the end of that turmoil,” says Adeney. “Eventually you deny your own pain and the pain of others, so there’s a bitter tranquillity in that.”
– Jesse Locke
Fri, Apr 21 – Camp Cataract – Niagara Falls, ON
Sat, May 13 – Corktown – Hamilton, ON
May 19-21 – Come Together at FGT –Durham, ON
Sat, June 3 – House Of Targ – Ottawa, ON
Sat, June 10 – Springtide Music Festival – Uxbridge, ON
Sat, June 24 – Dakota Tavern – Toronto, ON
Sat, July 8 – Phog Lounge – Windsor, ON
Fri, July 14 – Music on the River Concert Series – Toronto, ON
Fri July 1 – Palsad Socialbowl – London, ON
July 28-30 – Hillside Festival – Guelph, ON