Three years have brought out a weathered yet spirited side of Henry Wolfe. While the musician’s debut LP Linda Vista (2011) was straightforward, almost too gentle even, with its conventional instrumentation and approach, the two original songs on Wolfe’s upcoming EP Encino (which also includes two covers) cut much deeper as he’s developed a more enduring sound to complement his pacifying voice and lyrics. Part of this refashioning comes from working with Thom Monahan, who has produced albums for Devendra Banhart, Vetiver, Fujiya & Miyagi, Fruit Bats; the other comes from a growing consciousness of LA’s seemingly paradoxical landscape: a sprawling, suburban city and the isolated, legendary wilderness that surrounds it.
Named after a neighborhood in the San Fernando Valley, Wolfe’s song “Encino” (“in a town at the edge of the world / a town where dreams go to die”)—which could actually symbolize any city in the valley—is inspired by this contradiction. Wolfe tells CH, “30 minutes from where I live, there’s a ski mountain. You can go skiing at this little park—and you go up on the chairlift, and you look down, and it’s a total Western landscape with huge Sierra pine trees, covered in snow. And then you look over to your left and see downtown LA: this vast grid of housing, the freeways, the ocean, etc. It’s wild to have those two extremes next to each other. And that’s what the song ‘Encino’ is kind of about: is this place where I’m living, is it paradise or purgatory? Because you have both, just right up against each other.” The music video for “Encino,” which stars Jena Malone, further explores the themes of being engulfed and overcome by more powerful forces, resulting in some colorful light seizures (and dancing in front of vending machines).
It’s the layers and layers of sound in Miracle Mile, however, and its animation video, that could be Wolfe’s strongest release yet. It feels less like a folk song and more of a spiritual tune, perhaps due to the rhythms, and graphic designer Elliott Glass‘ minimalist artwork enhances the mystical nature of the song. In the optical illusion-like video—which CH is premiering—a silhouette of a face slowly transform into a rooftop with satellites and then again into a mountainous panorama. For the video’s direction, Wolfe showed Glass imagery of light artist James Turrell’s work, who had just finished up a retrospective at LACMA last year and was a major influence in the album’s aesthetic, as also seen in the music video for “Encino.” Wolfe also included screenshots from live weather cams and stills from science fiction romance movies from the ’80s. “When I was kid, there were all these movies about some kind of encounter with supernatural forces in a suburban landscape—like the classic ET,” says Wolfe. “Then there were all these movies that were made to cash in on that hit. Those images [captured] that sense of wonder in the mundane.”
A couple years ago I fell in love. I’m not a religious person, but the experience is as close as I’ve come to having something like a spiritual epiphany.
On the meaning behind the lyrics of “Miracle Mile,” Wolfe notes, “A couple years ago I fell in love. I’m not a religious person, but the experience is as close as I’ve come to having something like a spiritual epiphany. Still I’m a skeptic by nature, and while I was falling I was aware that I was making the choice to fall, to believe the connection was real and not just romance. So the song addresses that ambivalence.”
Images courtesy of Henry Wolfe