Having shortened its name to reflect a new group identity, the One Ensemble, founded by Volcano the Bear member Daniel Padden, finds the quartet in good form on its formal debut Wayward the Fourth. With an instrumental lineup resembling acts like Clogs or Rachel's more than a rock band as such -- two players handle cello and viola, the rest everything from bouzouki to clarinet -- the One Ensemble is far more suggestive of chamber music or small avant-garde groups, and the songs very much fit the lineup. While Padden does contribute both guitar and vocals throughout, Wayward readily shows that this isn't meant to be the center of the experience; opening song "Joker Burlesque" shows as much, given how his singing is set back in the mix, a distanced, half-audible signal, while the strings and bouzouki take much more prominence. Another sign of the One Ensemble's defiantly independent streak comes in the sequencing -- running ten minutes, "Joker Burlesque" takes up nearly a quarter of the album's length, with the remaining pieces mostly split into fairly brief numbers. There's a pleasingly tactile feeling to the performances, often evocative of a never-never land of music of earlier centuries without specifically interpreting older songs -- clarinets play high parts almost like bagpipes while the strings set a dark, mournful tone down low, guitars sketch out stately mantras while descending viola adds an unnerving edge. That there's a theatricality to many of the songs isn't surprising; indeed, one number, "Horsehead Waltz," was written for a theater production and very much sounds like the type of thing played at a formal ball going distinctly wrong. Guest vocalist Hanna Tuulikki's part on "Neither One Thing" creates the effect of slightly demented elves having a dance in Tudor England -- something Neil Gaiman would be proud of, at the least!
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AllMusic Review by Ned Raggett