Todd Umhoefer is that rare breed of modern artist who thrusts his work in front of everything else. Regular income, consistent housing, and any semblance of security be damned. It amounts to shit if the music isn’t honest, fearless, or significant—which makes Umhoefer’s steady stream of material fitting as part of his creative clearing house, Old Earth, all the more admirable. The latest volley in Old Earth’s ongoing aural barrage is A Wake In The Wells. The five-track (11-movement) effort finds Umhoefer plying his more-with-less mentality better than ever before. Umhoefer’s gritty palm-mute loops serve as a rhythmic backing to intricate and ethereal guitar licks, all tied-taught with the chilling vessel of his distinctive vocals that are rife in poetic depth—down to song title capitalization and even album packaging. While aptly sidled with the “experimental” tag, offerings like “Accept that the mark will outlast you” somehow culls an indie rock construct that’s seamlessly strung together with Umhoefer’s underlying hip-hop influence. The barren “some Gates’ll swing wide, for Us” brings about a hushed-yet-imposing specter that looms listen after listen.
On Wake, Umhoefer’s deliberate creative construct is countered with reactionary contributions from a skilled and varied cast of Milwaukee musicians, including Christopher Porterfield (Field Report), Jon Mueller (Volcano Choir, Collections Of Colonies Of Bees, Pele), Erin Wolf (Altos), Sean Raasch (Twin Brother), Michael Brooks, and Nick Berg (Great Lake Drifters). This cast introduces atmospheric interior warmth to the otherwise cold, compact crust of Old Earth. Many of those artists are return collaborators who were featured on Umhoefer’s basement-sired 18-minute opus, a low place at The Old Place or the tumultuous follow-up EP, Small Hours. Between Umhoefer’s ardent attention to detail, and his increased ability to allow contributors to leave their own mark on his renderings, Old Earth’s latest effort holds the distinction of being the project’s most ambitious work to date, while allowing an uptick of entry points to welcome listeners scattered at numerous corners of the musical spectrum. Stream Old Earth’s A Wake In The Wells before it’s released, only at Milwaukee Record.