If Gary Jules' debut album was a superb collection of songs (a few of them dating back to his late teenage years), Trading Snakeoil for Wolftickets is a stunning, focused follow-up. Reflective and melancholy, dusk-colored and dreamlike, it finds supreme repose through songs of somber experience. Composed in the concentrated two-year span after being unceremoniously dropped from A&M and recorded essentially on his own, the album is a wellspring of songcraft that charts a course through tangled emotions. Jules' voice betrays many things -- hurt, disappointment, and uncertainty, but also, importantly, recognition -- and the songs find a range of moods, from the joyous, late-night-with-loose-change-in-my-pockets ode "DTLA" to the breathtaking resignation of "No Poetry" and "Something Else." On the surface, little seems to have changed about the music. It is still a fragile but lush wish: the cymbals whisper, and acoustic guitars pick out the delicate melodies while waiting for the occasional, flirtatious reply of soft electric runs. But in every way, Jules has grown as an artist. Trading Snakeoil for Wolftickets plays out like a song cycle. It documents Jules' convoluted relationship with Los Angeles, an adopted home that retains an unrelenting hold over the songwriter, and the music is imbued with the city's spirit. You could even say that Hollywood acts as a character of sorts on the album, both a protagonist and antagonist, sometimes standing at the center of songs, sometimes fading into soft focus behind Jules' stories, but always, in some way, casting a shadow. The album moves through vaguely cynical expressions of dejection, toward acceptance, before finally inhabiting a humble, restive place, a personal journey that culminates in "Umbilical Town," on which Jules lingers in the past for a few brief moments before letting go of it all. And in the stark ghostliness of Tears for Fears' "Mad World," hauntingly rearranged as a piano ballad, he comes up with a performance that more than matches the work of Cat Stevens in terms of solemn, profound beauty, isolation, and depth of searching. Trading Snakeoil for Wolftickets takes on a shimmering glow. Gracious and redemptive, it is a rapt, quiescent masterwork.
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AllMusic Review by Stanton Swihart
feat: Michael Andrews