Debut album rests compelling lyrics on a bed of layered sound.
‘What is Left of Me’ is the fascinating debut album from Wastelander, the nom de chanson of Cooper Formant, a singer-songwriter and multi-instrumentalist based in Portland, Maine. It’s polished and rough, complex and enchanting, all at the same time
The production is dense, lushly layered like Phil Spector’s Wall of Sound or George Martin’s orchestral soundscapes. Formant co-produced the album with bassist Paul Defiglia and recorded on vintage tape equipment in Nashville. This gives it a 60’s sound and just like some of the experiments of the 60’s, it can occasionally be irritating. That said, the obviously studio-produced sound of ‘What is Left of Me’ is refreshing at a time when so many albums keep the sound spare, as if simplicity equals authenticity. Here is an album with a sound you couldn’t replicate on a front porch. It paints pictures just as vividly as those sung by everyone’s Uncle Phil around the campfire.
Some of Formant’s lyrics are almost conversational, which doesn’t always make for good songs unless you are Tom Waits. And yet, as you listen to ‘What is Left of Me’, the songs get more accessible, the images more universal. In the opening songs, the sweetness of the sound doesn’t quite match the harshness of the words. ‘Get it Right’ and ‘Get Older’ both have moments of pain, but the sound doesn’t have a matching intensity – in fact, it is reminiscent of Dan Folgelberg. ‘Be Where’ almost sounds like ABBA, but the lyrics are more searing than most of what Bennie and Bjorn wrote. Sgt Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band would be comfortable playing ‘As You See’. It uses a wide range of instruments including organ to build a full sound. The fifth song, ‘Caduceus’, finally brings both together – sound matches the lyrics and things only get better from there. ‘Never Trust a Man’ is a great song, a poem for the times: “Never block the path of a devil on a mission/ You can’t trust a heart that is poisoned by ambition.”: It’s a gem among the many polished stones on this album. ‘Gotta Figure It Out’ is a bit of a cacophony, reminiscent of ‘Helter Skelter’.
Many great lines run throughout. For example, “It’s hard to turn in when the day never did begin/ And there’s nothing to show for the pain” from ‘Natural Light’. In ‘I Just Want to Be Your Friend’: “I’m alright with not knowing where I’m going/ Or when the road I’m walking down will come to end/ I just pray that my actions will carry my intent.”
Formant’s voice is a great vehicle for his songs. All in in all, this is an album with which to spend time, to enjoy the sounds and appreciate the poetry. It manages to merge a very personal perspective on a life lived today with sounds from across the decades.