I can usually tell that I’m going to like or not like an album within ten or fifteen seconds. While some make out music likability to an exact science, my sensibility has no pretense like this. Either I like it or I don’t. And it was the test of this theory that inspired me to try out J. Allen’s ‘Wonder City.’ I found a free download link from the Largehearted Boy blog, and testing if it was worth it, I gave a try to the first half-minute of the first track ‘O My Love.’ Allen’s ponderous vocals and gently tendered sonic atmosphere came through out of the gate, and I was hooked. Here there is a dark, psychedelic undercurrent which really comes to the fore on longer tracks like ‘Wonder City’ and ‘Rain and Thunder,’ and these are carefully—if not naively—counterbalanced by acoustically-oriented tracks, like ‘Half the Sky’ and ‘Heavy Hand.’
The record as it its best when the sonic textures run thickest, though even at its simplest moments, it still commands the listener’s attention. There is a story being told, and while there are no especially brilliant lyrical twists, the real strength of the record is upheld in what Allen withholds. This restraint prevents sophomoric flourishes and sets the tenor for what will hopefully be future installments in the Allen canon. He got my fifteen seconds, and then he got my 43 minutes, and now I’m looking forward to what’s next.