With banjo solos that resemble Mumford and Sons and multi-part harmonies like Edward Sharpe & The Magnetic Zeros with the rootsy sounds found in The Lumineers, The Way Down Wanderers have a refreshing take on folk music.
Produced by Grammy-winning David Schiffman, the folk band’s sophomore album, “Illusions,” is an experimental take on folk music with instrumentation that demonstrates genres ranging from pop to bluegrass to reggae.
Lead singer-songwriters Collin Krause and Austin Thompson met at the ages of 14 and 19, both a part of an unsuccessful band in 2012. Breaking away from the group, the two then picked up John Williams on bass and vocals, John Merikoski on drums and Travis Kowalsky on banjo and guitar to create The Way Down Wanderers in 2014.
The lead singers, now brothers-in-law after Thompson wed Krause’s sister, collaborated more than ever to write “Illusions,” Krause said.
The group’s previous self-titled album, released in 2016, had a more organic sound as it stuck to its stringed instruments. With “Illusions” pushing the boundaries of folk further than before, the Wanderers use its roots as a foundation while dipping into genres as unexpected as reggae.
“We’ve taken it in a slightly different direction with adding some more keyboards and electric instruments that really add more layers to the sound that weren’t previously there,” Krause said.
The album opens with “Principles of Salt,” a song expressing the band’s disillusionment with America and the life of white picket fences. Dark lyrics like “America has given up and overdosed on adderall” are paired with energetic plucking and strumming, including an intricate banjo solo by Kowalsky.
“All My Words” was the first single released from the album sang by Austin Thompson. With the catchy lyrics and melody, it resembles pop more than the rest while creatively adding a island style, reggae beat in the chorus.
“I had this idea to throw a little bluegrass breakdown almost in between the choruses to kind of tie back into our older material since the song had taken this direction that we hadn’t explored before with a clavinet and some electric guitars and electric bass,” Krause said.
The album’s title-track begins with sounds of gusting winds and a jazzy guitar melody that slowly draws listeners in, making for a nostalgic experience. Krause said it took the longest to write and is filled with personal meaning. The sentimental lyrics call for listeners to seize the moment as Krause pauses to reminisce on his “younger years.”
“Old Ford” consists of the same message, but with a lighthearted, twangy guitar that resembles traditional country. In the song Krause travels down a road in his old Ford and wishes the road was longer. The song’s uplifting and upbeat sound makes for a surprise when the lyrics reveal its a metaphor about his concern for life not being long enough.
While the album brings a fresh sound, it’ll likely resonate with folk fans while attracting new listeners.
The Way Down Wanderers album is available for streaming on Spotify and Apple Music.