Good Willsmith
The Honeymoon Workbook






The Honeymoon Workbook is the full-length debut of the Chicagoan trio Good Willsmith, released on vinyl in March 2014 on the Mexico City-based Umor Rex Records and available to purchase and stream at Bandcamp. It is also available on iTunes, Thrill Jockey, Morr Music and other distributors. The band’s personnel comprises of Natalie Chami (synths, choral vocals), Doug Kaplan (tambura + tabla = tabula rasa?) and Max Allison (synths, bass guitar, oscillators). The trio is known for running the Hausu Mountain label, so a release of such an important artifact on an external label outside the band's morphogenesis is a bold move, but flawlessly realized and skillfully managed as usual by Umor Rex’s designer Daniel Castrejón. Better still, the LP is pressed on orange vinyl, wondrously opaque, mesmerizingly diaphanous… and so unlike the scenery that awaits the innocent listener, oh boy! The Honeymoon Workbook houses seven compositions and seems alluringly picturesque and mellifluous a title, but nothing could be farther from the truth. This is a riotous reticulation, a bustling melting pot, a witches’ brew that is simmering at worst and outright blazing through bones, blood platelets and beings at best.


Genre-wise, The Honeymoon Workbook is a deceptive and ferocious piece of adamantly powerful Shoegaze patterns, Drone structures and even Ambient textures. When I first encountered the title alone, I thought of Folk ditties, bonfire crackles, acoustic guitar licks and the occasional singalong line. Zilch. The band rather prefers to create a highly uneasy tension, admixing sketches as previously conceptualized on tour with at least one, if not hundreds of horrible personal apprehensions and apocalyptic cultural incidents. These perils are never named, what really happened remains in the dark; similarly enigmatic works in the vein of Vision Éternel's The Last Great Torch Song (Abridged Pause Recordings, 2012) or Sam Gillies' self-released Warning Tones (2013) come to mind. The track titles on Good Willsmith's album are all the more meaningful in this particular regard, and while they seem funny and comical at times, their surroundings are definitely not. Here is a meticulous look at Good Willsmith’s The Honeymoon Workbook… this is a honeymoon you won’t forget.


"All right, let's put the sun into the sleeve and sell it!" Photo by Daniel Castrejón.


Enjoy the tranquility as long as you can, for it won’t get any silkier throughout The Honeymoon Workbook; this could be the implicit credo of the opener. Titled I Told You To Get Up And It Just Happened seems to be one of those cheeky titles at first which house a faux-mysterious wittiness about a certain wonder or even a bog-standard picayune incident, but no, this is indeed and hands-down a self-explanatory title at the end of the day – and the beginning of the album – which serves as an accompanying text or explanatory note. The cloudlet diffuses, letting the album launch with blotchy clangs, vinyl crackles and chirping sine tones, not to mention the fair share of venomous ophidian rattles. No surprise, the sleep cycle is over, the addressed individual awakes. The staccato of the fusillade continues, becoming more pressing. Otherworldly dark matter coils waft through the mephitic air, Doug Kaplan’s electric guitar quavers and wobbles amidst the seething braiding. Entrapped between Dark Ambient and Hauntology, the guitar melody itself is surprisingly soothing, almost ethereally so, but the surrounding turmoil is the countermovement to the somnolent doldrums.


The prismatic co(r)pse floats into the in medias res naming convention of & My Body To Breath. Middle Eastern fibers are sewn into the embroidery, here in the shape of harshly plucked tambur strings whose attack and decay evoke Indian goblet drums… or is it vice versa? A threnodic fluxion of electric current serves as the backdrop for acidic 303-oid jungle fifes. Shrill and warbled, they bluster and flitter aggressively through the cauterized wasteland. Half-dissonant guitar layers of the progressive kind and bit-crushed bleep melodies as their retrogressive counterpart round off this desert in the shape of a triptych: an Ambient riverbed, a spiraling sine punctilio and seraphic guitar splinters.


Now ~ Shower Put On All Black is a towering but assumedly apocryphal title, for it seems to be attached to the wrong song, as neon colors, klaxon reverberations and flamboyant cyber barrel organs reign in this luminescent antrum arcanum. The frequency range becomes emaciated by design as Good Willsmith distill all deep frequencies and other soulful nutritions from the saltatory reciprocations. This aural arcade is paradoxically verdured regardless, probably due to the hefty conflation of multifarious layers. They may all be thin and backward-looking, but in tandem they outshine the implied blackness. Gyring and firing, this track is prone to entrap children of the 70’s and 80’s in an epicurean vesture of blips and bits. What You Think Is Crazy Isn’t kisses the arcade fugacity good-bye, at least for the moment, since the trio injects their only proper Drone artifact into the veins. Natalie Chami’s ecclesial organ sounds resonate in the distance, with asbestus-coated Shoegaze catenae scourging through the densely studded engine room. Angelic guitar streams put the finishing touches on a partially lachrymose, but ultimately gruesome withdrawal into the innermost self.


Ostracism often leads to madness, and the Napolean three-minute appendix 25 almost 26 & 27 28 29 30 touches upon contemporaneous decay, senescence and efflorescence in its sequence of numbers already. No surprise, for the flurry of numbers is transformed into music as well, with cavalcades of service announcements, radio frequencies and babbling gibberish resulting in a superimposition of hectic megalomania. Scraping and scratching ad infinitum within the time-related boundaries, even the argentine glow of the droning guitar-based lanthanum is veneered. A staggering mess. Does the recital of these numbers offer solace or is it the last hyperventilating straw?


Opening another train of thought, Taking Too Long To Text serves as a short-lived infusion of humor, or so it seems right from the get-go, for the track title can be read in an alacritous voice… or yet again in an asphyxiated one, oh nooo! But no worries, for the chip tune bravery is resurrected, now in a kaleidoscopic shape. The pentatonic-circular leitmotif takes the gestalt of a silkened bleep freak and scintillates across the horizon. This is, I suppose, Good Willsmith’s most melodious mélange to date, and although it is no Synth Pop ayre, the melody is firmly embedded and strong enough to fight off the encore of the snake-like rattles and overdriven eruptions that already pestered (graced?) the opener. Max Allison’s medulla-sipping bass protuberances are particularly noteworthy as well, especially so as the arrangement turns from aerose to magnesium-silver yet again.


The finale If Anything Happens To Me, My Password Is Lady Lass then floats into this silverish mayhem and works as its sorrowful apotheosis, as the synthesizer is yet again the golden thread of the track, but severely altered by Natalie Chami's haunting vocals, ice-blue guitar screeches and other glacially piercing artifacts whose prolonged, elasticized state makes this last call feel like a time loop, mystery tunnel or slow motion fractal. A fitting closure that is as willfully histrionic as Good Willsmith’s complete debut.


Is The Honeymoon Workbook a pamphlet, diatribe or manifesto? It does not deliver what its rose-tinted title suggests, that’s for sure! In lieu of bucolic rivulets, rural shores and rustic vestiges of romance, the Chicagoan trio boosts, augments, bolsters, expands, stacks and interpolates the pith of each arrangement to the maximum. This is not necessarily a Power Drone or Super Shoegaze work akin to S ND Y P RL RSRex (Umor Rex, 2012) or Ryonkt’s Troposphere (Twice Removed Records, 2012), for there are many interstices, crevasses and moulds all over Good Willsmith’s debut, but the tendency of these three works remains the same: merciless saturation, stern oomph and a no-compromise approach in crafting the soundscape. Good Willsmith heterodynes multitudinous helicoidal formations and creates a heavily bubbling zoetrope harboring progressive Bhangra billows, spheroidal serpentines of Rimini and rounds this vertiginous rotation off with psychedelic protrusions.


Metallic and organic at the same time, with admonitory antimatter bending the frequency range, The Honeymoon Workbook is more of a mirage, figment or string of febrile convulsions than a graspable incident that is open to scrutiny. This is a all the more curious, for the incisive structure and loud volume ought to be proof enough that the listening subject faces a brutish sparkler. True that, there is no denial, especially so if the auroral album title is yet again put into the aural context of the album’s endemics. Shuttling between the Orient, Far Eastern climes and a certain Nevada airglow, The Honeymoon Workbook is running on all cylinders, meshes its various sources and instruments forcefully, but the final result, the thing one will have to digest is its polysemy. There ought to be elation and glee. However, glimmers of hope and capsules of consolation are the only positive vibes the band is willed to deliver. Otherwise, this is madness suprème, uncannily sinister and abrasive, with more than a few hints that something is awry. Hint: it is not the album itself.


Further listening:


Ambient Review 327: Good Willsmith – The Honeymoon Workbook (2014). Originally published on Mar. 26, 2014 at