Will Sprott, “Natural Internet”
By Will Ainsley · July 10, 2023 Merch for this release:
Vinyl LP

Will Sprott’s new album, Natural Internet, is a musical fantasy island in the back of beyond. After all, escapism played a part in its gestation, with Sprott ruminating on the contrast between moving to the country and raising his child in tranquility while also “thinking about mass trauma… climate catastrophe, gun violence, racism…” Sprott—one quarter of Shannon and The Clams—approaches this dichotomy by saying he wants Natural Internet to be “soothing and helpful—a psychic balm.” The slide guitars are like musical sighs. Low-volt, plinky-plonky synths on “Touch Milk” come straight from Mort Garson’s playbook. Vocal harmonies layered over ‘Bumblebee’ only seem to blend at their apogee, finally converging like tributaries into a main river. In a word, aaaahhhhh.

It’s easy to picture Sprott singing these songs around his abode near the Sierra Nevada. They aren’t far from impromptu ditties sung sotto to a baby, with cascading melodies, sing-song cadences, and nursery rhyme-esque lyrics (see “Bumblebee/ Whilin’ ‘way the hours/ Flyin’ through the flowers” or “Catchin’ crawdads with a bag o’ meat.”) What’s more, with the boxy vocal reverb and slightly slurred, scattered, freewheeling delivery, Sprott could even be singing in the bathroom, perhaps while taking a shower, or shaving, or cleaning, with eyes closed, purely in the moment. Hell, it worked for Paul Simon and Björk.

Like all blue-chip guitar pop, Natural Internet works on several levels. It can be un-cynically enjoyed at face value (what’s not to love about sunny arrangements and sugar-sweet melodies?), but the deft writing, otherworldly lyrics, and thematic nuance are always just below the surface. These songs stretch to fit: One is both sci-fi tale and a comment on immigration, another describes an insect pottering about and offers enigmatic observation of a capital-I Issue. Sprott ensures the border between idyll and reality is porous—pleasant pizzicato string sounds on “Touch Milk” eventually turn manic, like a chopped ‘n’ screwed Disney soundtrack, whereas the eerie, lamenting melody played by the theremin-style instrument on the title track soon gives way to languid organ and Sprott’s lullaby-ish croon.

And yes, there’s a smidge of imitation here. The harpsichord in “Strange Lines” has an ancestor in George Martin’s baroque “In My Life” solo, Friends-era Beach Boys might have rejected “Edge Of The World” for being too woozy, and Sprott leans into a clipped delivery favored by Ray Davies—but there’s nothing wrong with this. Indeed, Natural Internet’s vein of classic, 20 µg-strength psychedelic country pop gives Sprott ample bandwidth to map his strange tales of wonder and sadness, while additionally ensuring maximum “psychic balm.” After all, when the wolves are circling and the sun has turned black, you won’t be reaching for sound collages or modal jazz, will you? (Well, maybe some of you will.) You’ll be listening to a few silly little songs that make the world seem, however momentarily, okay.

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