Album of the Month: Andy Fitts's 'Smoky Wilds'
Andy Fitts carved out a role as a mainstay of Seattle’s thoughtful indie rock scene, but did so as a background player. He’s served as the bassist in David Bazan's band, the Long Winters, and Say Hi to name a few, but this month he branched out from being a backing musician with his debut album Smoky Wilds. The record showcases Fitts as a singer-songwriter with a knack for composition that belies his lack of solo experience.
The natural—and apt—comparison for Fitts is Bazan. While Fitts partially hides his vocals behind distortion, his timbre is eerily reminiscent of Bazan’s voice, just with the emotive qualities turned down a handful of notches. Smokey Wilds also bears a sonic resemblance to Bazan’s solo albums, undoubtedly due in part to longtime Bazan collaborator TW Walsh mastering the record. The main difference between the two singer-songwriters is while Bazan’s songs function primarily as delivery platforms for his expertly crafted lyrics, Fitts puts a clear primary focus on the instrumentation (he even made an instrumental version available for download), while opting for a melancholy lyrical expressionism.
Smoky Wilds sports a cloudy ambient feel, like the album is submerged in a liquid layer of white noise. The songs were composed and mostly performed entirely by Fitts, with Josh Ottum (drums) and James McAlister (guitar) providing additional instrumentation. While tracks like “Start Cutting” put fuzzy bass in the forefront, Fitts doesn’t force the issue with his signature instrument. It’s never overwhelming in the least. If anything, the undercurrent of synth sounds that wash over each track give the album its distinct flow. Fitts expertly combines live drums and drum machine parts to give Smokey Wilds a complex rhythmic identity. The guitar work provide significant texture and detail, from the chunky, percussive playing on “Easier Said” to the bare bones sound “Father Time.” A couple tracks (“My Axe” and “Roll My Chair”) feature musical breakdowns that feel like actual breakdowns with scattered flurries of notes seeming to begin and end randomly. It’s all part of a tonally taut package. On Smoky Wilds, Fitts presents a slow-burning downward spiral, and it sounds beautiful.
Nov 6 at 9, Tractor Tavern, $6