Review: Will Graefe Inspires & Enchants on Debut ‘North America’ Record

North America - Will Graefe

Our Rating

Recommended If You Like: Fleet Foxes, Bon Iver, Wilco, Joni Mitchell

Will Graefe’s debut record North America (released June 23 via Pretty Purgatory) is very much the musical equivalent of an early morning’s hike through the grassy, moss-laden woods. The Okkervil River guitarist instills in his music a cocktail of folk intimacy and singer/songwriter individuality as he strikes out on his own, developing a melodically deep and acoustically bright tapestry of sound, song, and texture. Growing from the low rumble of a bubbling stream, to the layered intensity of a glacial roar and back again, North America‘s sonically mesmerizing identity leaves listeners tranquil and satisfied, yet wanting so much more.

Listen: ‘North America’ – Will Graefe

North America - Will Graefe

North America – Will Graefe

Graefe’s adventure begins with the acoustic opener “North America,” an instrumental featuring robust guitar strokes and an invigoratingly spiritual melody. The sound of Graefe hitting the strings is as hard and emphatic as the vivid chords themselves; what would otherwise be a solemn entrance is instead a shaking wake-up announcing the coming storm. Indeed, Graefe considers his entrance a political song… “because it feels defiant and unapologetic,” he shares. “I think of this as a Sonny Sharrock meets Aaron Copeland type piece. I’ve always loved really sweeping diatonic melodies-especially if they are surrounded by enough dirt to not be saccharine. I think it sounds old, too, which is good.” He visits the tune twice more throughout the record, iterating the sequence and sounds but maintaining the vigor and fiery warmth that so effortlessly captures the room.

Graefe blends the patience of Bon Iver and melodic stylings of Joni Mitchell on “Boys.” “Please don’t speak, ’cause we’ve had too much to drink,” Graefe sings in the song’s poignant chorus, wallowing in the echoey depths of solitude’s uncompromising loneliness. Graefe’s use of the guitar as a percussive, melodic and emotional vehicle all at once lends him an unquestionably unique platform – one which he continues to exploit throughout his debut.

Will Graefe © Gabriel Birnbaum

Will Graefe © Gabriel Birnbaum

Single “Blood Feather,” which draws its name from nighttime reads about birds and regeneration in biology, quite accurately captures the artist’s voice: Somber reflection that captures the beauty of all. “I was thinking about how depressed humans get – sometimes very unpredictably and mysteriously,” Graefe recalls. “We don’t have the ability to subconsciously regenerate our own happiness and self worth when we are hurt – it hasn’t found it’s way into our psychological evolution, at least as far as I know. And to attempt to escape darkness, we often have to face it in very uncomfortable ways, so instead we self medicate and exacerbate the feelings of loneliness and isolation.”

See me off on the twenty two
I’m westward in a glow
Leaning back I smoke this stick
Forget the trip I’m on
Head south through the rusted field
The red coast bible north
Open eyes and motel nights
The bible’s by your bedside…
Raise me a mountain, call me a stone
Every color bleeding, calling me home

With music, it’s so often not about the direct inspiration behind the music, but rather the feelings it inspires. The pulsing, hypnotically repetitious “Call Me A Stone” was written in western Vermont, and certainly evokes the imagery of the Green State’s luscious landscapes. Described by Graefe as “sort of a road song about transience and transition?” the track’s cyclical nature makes it absolutely transcendent.

Will Graefe © Gabriel Birnbaum

Will Graefe © Gabriel Birnbaum

North America shines brightest in moments of guitar-driven reverie, of which there are too many to count. Five-minute instrumental “The Declining Season” explores a variety of rich contours and is perhaps an exaggerated display of the artist’s ability to entrance sans-lyrics; and where “North America” startled listeners awake, the album’s midpoint offers a breath of relaxed contemplation.

Graefe does wake us up one last time before closing with softer lullabies. The bittersweet, acoustic-driven “Rest Your Head on The State Line” is totally transformed through the addition of drums and overdriven electric guitar, whose cacophonous energy collide with the artist’s otherwise calmed tonality to send a stirring message.

A seasoned member of many music scenes, Will Graefe knows his strengths and weaknesses well, and he engages the best he has to offer in creating a well-rounded, spellbinding body of work that demands repeated listens to be fully effective, embraced, and understood. An anytime, anywhere record, North America begs to be the soundtrack to exploration, both of the wild and of the intimate. Don’t miss this passionate debut; we cannot wait to hear what roads Will Graefe will travel next.

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North America - Will Graefe

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The Breakdown

Mitch is the Editor-in-Chief of Atwood Magazine and a 2014 graduate from Tufts University, where he pursued his passions of music and psychology. He currently works at Universal Music Group in New York City. In his off hours, Mitch may be found songwriting, wandering about one of New York's many neighborhoods, or writing an article on your next favorite artist for Atwood. Mitch's words of wisdom to fellow musicians and music lovers are thus: Keep your eyes open and never stop exploring. No matter where you go, what you do or who you are with, you can always learn something new and inspire something amazing. Say hi here: mitch[at]atwoodmagazine[dot]com