A degree of mystery surrounds New Jersey based singer-songwriter, Wholewheat. Musically,  Brian Austin a.k.a. Wholewheat is something an enigma. Very little is known of him. However, in September 2014,  Wholewheat released his debut album Songs From My Parent’s Basement. It features songs that Wholewheat  recorded between 1995 and 2003.  Songs From My Parent’s Basement however, was very nearly never released.

That was until  one of Wholewheat’s fans decided to get involved in 2014. He had known Wholewheat since the nineties. Back then, Wholewheat’s shows were reasonably popular in the New Jersey area. Despite this, one day in 2003, Wholewheat suddenly turned his back on music. 
Very occasionally, Wholewheat would head down to his basement and record a song. However, it was different to the ‘glory days’, when Wholewheat’s life revolved around music.

Wholewheat had grown up listening to an eclectic selection of artists. In high school, he listened to The Ventures, The Animals and The Left Banke. Another influence was sixties soul music. Especially Curtis Mayfield and The Four Tops. However, as his musical career began, Wholewheat was listening to Beck, Daniel Johnston and Sebadoh. Each of these artists would shape Wholewheat as a musician.

It was around 1995, when Wholewheat set his sights on forging a career as a musician. By then, he was living in Toms River, Jersey Shore, New Jersey. That was where Wholewheat would enjoy his ‘glory days’.

These came when Wholewheat was playing around the New Jersey area. When he played lived, his gigs proved reasonably popular. However, Wholewheat didn’t play live as often as most artists. Instead, Wholewheat was content to concentrate on recording,

By then, Wholewheat had transformed the basement of home into a makeshift studio. At the heart of the studio, was a four-track cassette recorder, which Wholewheat recorded his lo-fi songs onto. These songs most people thought Wholewheat would release as an album. Little did they know, that Wholewheat never meant to release these songs.

Instead, recording the songs was almost like an act of confession for Wholewheat. Entering the recording studio, was akin to entering the confessional. It was as if there was a cathartic quality to recording, and that it allowed Wholewheat to cleanse his soul. For onlookers.  it must have been frustrating knowing nobody was going to hear these songs.

After all, locally Wholewheat was a described as a talented singer-songwriter. When he played live, he was a popular draw. However, despite enjoying a following locally, Wholewheat was reluctant to release his music. Still, though, Wholewheat continued to record new songs. 

Every month, the pile of four-track cassettes grew. Wholewheat was a truly prolific songwriter. Songwriting seemed to come easy for him. He continued to record songs in his basement studio. For eight years, Wholewheat disappeared into his studio, and recorded new songs. Then in 2003, everything changed.

Almost overnight, Wholewheat turned his back on music. No longer was he playing live. He didn’t even go down to his basement studio anymore. It was as if Wholewheat had drawn a line in the sand.

This his fans felt was disappointing. Wholewheat’s  lyrics they felt, were perceptive and cerebral. He seemed to live the lyrics to a song. That he had turned his back on music was regarded a tragedy.

Over the next few years, Wholewheat made occasional sojourns into his basement studio. However, it wasn’t like it once been.  No longer was Wholewheat in love with music. 

Months would go by before Wholewheat returned to the studio. Meanwhile, the pile of four-track cassettes lay unloved. Some of these recordings went as far back as 1995. These tapes were stored in the basement of Wholewheat’s New Jersey home. Then in early 2014, some of Wholewheat’s music was put on the internet.

Soon, Wholewheat’s music found an audience on the internet. The next step was to take things further, and release an album. So the  thirteen tracks that became Songs From My Parent’s Basemen were chosen from the cassettes in Wholewheat’s basement.

While most albums were being released digitally 500 copies of Songs From My Parent’s Basement pressed on vinyl. The reason for this was Wholewheat has always been more comfortable outside the digital world. Indeed, Wholewheat’s basement studio is a world away from the the DAWs, digital interfaces and Melodyne that could be found in many basement studios. However, Wholewheat wouldn’t be comfortable in such that environment.

What Wholewheat’s recordings lack in fidelity, he tries to is make up with clever songwriting and feel.  Emotion and honesty  is said to pervade the lo-fi recordings on Songs From My Parent’s Basement, which I’ll tell you about.

Tragic Death opens Songs From My Parent’s Basement. Just a slow, hypnotic drum machine gives way to synths. Together, they create a nineties lo-fi sound. Plenty of space is left in the arrangement. Some of it’s filled by Wholewheat’s emotionless vocal. Straight away, there’s a darkness to his lyrics: “I want a Tragic Death, some rookie cop to see my last breath.” Wholewheat’s vocal has been multi-tracked, so that he adds backing vocals to this melodic track. His lyrics are dark, nihilist and later, full of youthful angst: “I’m done with this world, all because of a girl.” 

The guitar that opens Can You Divide Me Into You? sounds as if it’s been inspired by Nirvana unplugged. Again, Wholewheat’s urgent, emotive vocal has been multi-tracked. Behind him, a big bold, droning, see-saw keyboards play. They provide the backdrop to a heartfelt plea that’s reminiscent of Nirvana.

Just like the two previous tracks, Give You My All has a lo-fi sound. This adds an atmospheric backdrop, as percussion, drums and keyboards add an understated backdrop. At the front of the arrangement, is Wholewheat’s vocal. It delivers what’s alternative, but catchy and memorable paean. When the vocal drops out, beeping, squeaking synths add to the hook quotient to this catchy slice of pop.

He Knew How To Smile is another guitar lead track. Soon, it’s joined by Wholewheat’s vocal. By then, memories of Wilco circa Summerteeth come flooding back. Especially, when the keyboards are added. There’s also a nod to The Beatles post 1967. By then, memories come flooding back and Wholewheat’s delivers a rueful vocal full of sadness and regret.

As Wholewheat plays a crystalline guitar on It’s Alright, urgency and emotion fills his vocal. He’s been transformed into a guitar toting troubadour on what’s a quite beautiful ballad.

Anyhow Anyway Anyday is another song that’s brings back memories of Wilco. That’s despite it featuring just featuring Wholewheat’s vocal, firmly strummed guitar and droning keyboards. Again, Wholewheat’s thoughtful vocal has been multi-tracked, and he adds ethereal harmonies. They’re the perfect finishing touch to one of Wholewheat’s finest hours, which sonically is one of the best recorded songs on Songs From My Parent’s Basement.

Spread Eagle’s has a really lo-fi sound. It’s far removed from music recorded in the digital age. This for many people is part of Songs From My Parent’s Basement’s charm. Wholewheat plays his trusty guitar and also keyboards. His vocal however, sounds as if it’s been influenced by John Lennon’s Double Fantasy and Milk and Honey. Meanwhile, the arrangement has a dreamy, lysergic sound that envelops and captivates the listener.

From the opening bars of We Can Be So Happy, Wholewheat’s vocal is heartfelt and hopeful. Again, his influences seems to be John Lennon and The Beatles on this tender, ruminative ballad.

The clicking drum machine returns on Fields Of Loneliness. Sonically, it’s a track that’s reminiscent of the opening track Tragic Death. It sounds as if it was written and recorded at the same time. There’s a coldness to the vocal, which has been multi-tracked so that Wholewheat accompanies himself. Slowly, and sometimes with a degree of cynicism as Wholewheat delivers the lyrics. This however, is just bravado, as he sounds if he’s experienced the loneliness he’s singing about. Just like Tragic Death, Fields Of Loneliness has a strangely melodic sound.

Jaunty describes the arrangement to Seaworthy. It bobs along, while lo-fi keyboards accompany Wholewheat. He delivers lyrics full that that are like stream of consciousness. Other times, they’re reminiscent of Tom Waite’s early albums. The major difference is Wholewheat’s vocal. It’s almost bereft of emotion, as slowly and deliberately he delivers his cerebral lyrics.

It’s just a guitar that accompany Wholewheat on Cavity. His vocal has been multi-tracked, allowing him to accompany himself and harmonise.  Again, there’s a darkness and also irony in the lyrics. “I went for a jog, got hit by a car, guess I’m just lucky.” Despite the irony and darkness, Cavity is still melodic, memorable, and showcases a talented singer-songwriter.

Depression Days sounds as if was recorded in the eighties, when synth pop was at the peak of its popularity. The synths that accompany Wholewheat on Depression Days are all that’s needed. They frame his pained vocal as he lays bare his soul for all he hear.

Closing Songs From My Parent’s Basement is I’ll Be Fine. It opens with dialogue between a child and its father asking “what happens when we die?” This gives way to a picked guitar, keyboards and Wholewheat’s vocal. It’s tender, heartfelt and accompanied by strummed and picked guitar. Washes of keyboards flit in and out, adding the final touch to a track that’s almost Beatles-esque, and oozes quality. It seems Wholewheat has kept the best until last.

That’s the story of Songs From My Parent’s Basement, the album that nearly never was. The master tapes was founding covered in mildew and rainwater. Songs From My Parent’s Basement was nearly over before the project had began.

Somehow, the tapes were rescued, and the songs converted to digital. Now there was no chance of the elements destroying Wholewheat’s debut album. It was safely backed up, and ready for release. However, Songs From My Parent’s Basement wasn’t like most albums released in September 2014.

Songs From My Parent’s Basement has a real lo-fi sound. Crackles and hiss can be heard on the album. That’s not surprising. Wholewheat recorded the album using a cheap four-track recorder. He didn’t have access to expensive equipment, and had to make do and mend.  However, to some extent,  the quality of the songs and Wholewheat’s delivery of them, makes up for the lo-fi sound. So do the mostly understated arrangements. The result is a compelling album, that’s variously dreamy, ethereal, lysergic, melodic and memorable. Other times, Wholewheat’s music is rueful, and full of hurt, sadness, cynicism and bravado. Mostly, though, Songs From My Parent’s Basement is an exploration of Wholewheat’s emotions and psyche.

One only needs to look at the song titles and listen to the lyrics to realise this. It seems songwriting and recording was therapeutic for Wholewheat. He poured so much of himself into the songs on Songs From My Parent’s Basement, which is a really personal album. Especially song like the nihilistic Tragic Death; the heartfelt and hopeful Give Me Your All; It’s Alright; the reassuring We Can Be So Happy; the darkness of Depression Days and the album closer I’ll Be Fine. Across thirteen tracks lasting forty minutes, Wholewheat lets you into his world. However, all we known about him, is his name Brian Austin. The man that’s better known as Wholewheat is a somewhat mysterious figure. Indeed, Wholewheat is best described as a musical riddle, wrapped in a mystery, inside an enigma. 






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