Will Stratton
Gig Seeker Pro

Will Stratton

New York City, New York, United States | SELF

New York City, New York, United States | SELF
Band Folk Singer/Songwriter


This band has not uploaded any videos
This band has not uploaded any videos



"Will Stratton: Strength in Ambiguity"

March 26, 2010
Combining words and music into a song is a matter of finding the strange equilibrium that allows a fragile construction to stand. A song is a spinning plate at the end of a long bamboo pole, balanced on the tip of the songwriter's musical nose.

Song: "No Wonder"
Artist: Will Stratton
CD: No Wonder
Genre: Folk-Pop
Will Stratton is just 22. According to his bio, the Brooklyn-based singer-songwriter "started making up songs on the piano when he was 3." On his 12th birthday, the bio continues, Stratton got his first electric guitar, "and in the decade since, music has owned him unconditionally."

Stratton's songs gain strength from their ambiguity; stylistically, they're too imaginative to be easily pigeonholed. Sufjan Stevens and Nick Drake both work as reference points; like them, Stratton makes songs that are elegantly orchestrated. But Stratton is rapidly coming into his own.

The quick pulse of "No Wonder" — the title song from Stratton's second album — thrums along, supporting a melody that floats and drapes itself over the pulse unevenly. The melody line and harmonies veer unexpectedly until, at the song's chorus, the pulse divides clearly into even measures, landing abruptly in up-tempo samba territory. (Here's an exercise for any drummers out there: Work out a part for this song. The task may involve breaking some old habits.)

In some ways, "No Wonder" is typical of Will Stratton's music, but that doesn't mean his songs all sound like this one. What is characteristic is his imagination and his ability to balance the direct and oblique into a single engrossing song. - NPR Music

"Will Stratton: Songs As Statements Of Fact"

March 25, 2010
Will Stratton's songs are beautiful and bracing, despite — or maybe because of — the abstract, ambitious goals that motivate him. Stratton says he hopes his songs tell stories "that aren't really stories, but are potential statements of fact."

Just 22, Stratton is already working on his third album. The summer he graduated from high school in New Jersey, Stratton recorded his first album, What the Night Said. His second, No Wonder, was released in 2009 when he graduated from Bennington College. The albums showcase a colorful imagination, and if the first one leans heavily on influences such as Sufjan Stevens (who played oboe on What the Night Said), the second reveals an artist bringing his unique vision into focus. Since Stratton sometimes plays guitar with intricate finger-picking and sings with an intimate, unpretentious voice, he's often compared to Nick Drake. But Stratton shouldn't be pigeonholed — he's evolving and growing too quickly.

Recently, Stratton played a handful of songs for the WNYC program Spinning on Air, demonstrating how he seems to put his aggression into his guitar playing and lyrics, rather than his vocal delivery. "Do You Remember the Morning" is a characteristic song, allowing lyrical fragments to coalesce and pitting introspection against frenetic guitar breaks. "Vile Bodies" is a hook-laden song about music-marketing memes. Many of Stratton's lyrics draw influence from literary sources — "For Franny Glass" was written about a person who reminded Stratton of the J.D. Salinger character of the same name, while "The War Is Over" comes across as something of a musical short story, imagining a return and a departure, "when the next big war is over and the profiteers have won." You can stream the full set here, but Stratton has also decided to make the nine songs he performed at WNYC available as a free EP. - NPR Music

"New Vanguard Blues"

Patience is a virtue, sure, but one that tends to slow things down and is occasionally even unnecessary. Will Stratton’s third album, New Vanguard Blues, serves as a reminder that impatience can be just as valuable a trait. After offering one of my favorite records of 2009, the consistently stunning No Wonder, Stratton apparently aimed to try something a little different for his third full-length: Vanguard was recorded and mixed by the songwriter himself over the weekend of July 9th and available online just weeks later, an unusual but certainly welcome decision as in many ways it is his best record to date. Shedding the various sonic accouterments that enhanced No Wonder, Stratton’s latest is simple and stripped-down, resulting in a tighter, more focused set of songs elevated by the artist’s impressive guitar work. But this album really succeeds for the same reason the last one did: Stratton’s singular songwriting, which has only gotten better with time.

That Vanguard was recorded in just two days is almost impossible to believe; the songs are beautifully performed and fully realized, never sounding sketch-like or unfinished. There obviously isn’t much in the way of production polish, but there also doesn’t need to be; Stratton’s tenor is naturally smooth and effortless, and his (mostly) acoustic guitar playing is richly complex, more enjoyable for the occasional squeak or buzz the live recording produces. Opener “Bluebells” introduces us to Vanguard’s base aesthetic: a brisk guitar pattern rolls under reverently sung musings, hinting at the work of Nick Drake (who Stratton greatly admires), yet most reminiscent of the signature style Stratton’s made very much his own. Semi-obscured insights into personal relationships, the temperament of his expressive, unhurried vocals, even the chord progressions carry a welcome familiarity. But what differentiates Vanguard from Stratton’s earlier work is its graceful combination of intelligence and emotional sincerity, a kind he’s never quite captured before. No longer seeking the thematic and stylistic sprawl that characterized his sophomore album, Stratton’s work he is more moderate, focused. Better.

Even Vanguard’s more varied latter half—featuring the thematically convoluted (though fascinating) “Holy Blonde” and “The War Is Over,” an unusual ballad from the perspective of a future veteran—avoids drifting far from the uniquely personal perspective that defines the record. 'War,' with its occasional harsh wash of electric guitar and plodding pace, serves as a reminder of Stratton’s willingness to push boundaries, a welcome break from the album’s safer moments. Maybe the best way to describe New Vanguard Blues would be to say that it feels both comfortable and accomplished. Those are, admittedly, unexciting, even conflicting descriptors, especially for an album held in such high regard. But they’re also appropriate, given the familiar yet refined craft, and the sense of confident discovery that resonates in this music. New Vanguard Blues has given us even clearer evidence of Stratton’s considerable talent, which is high praise indeed considering the talent he had already shown. - In Review Online

"New Vanguard Blues"

“It’s a spare record because I only had enough money for two days of recording time, and I thought it would be kind of a fun challenge to make it over a weekend” was how Stratton described the recording of New Vanguard Blues to me, and it was enough to make you want to hate him. I mean, the record is beautiful, and can in no way be accused of contrivance or condescension. It’s all right there, undeniable, on the face of the thing, in the initial and the sustained listening: he recorded it in two days. There isn’t a bum note on the whole goddamned affair, the guitar playing is gorgeous (at times unbelievable, really), and Stratton’s voice possesses the sort of soft, effortless smoothness where melodies seem to emanate off the surface of it rather than being wrung from the depths. It’s hard to apply here our skepticism or speculative noses for authenticity, with which we approach so many new records. There’s no denying it, because there’s nothing here to obscure it; Will Stratton’s just a very good musician.

The most useful comparison turns out to be Stratton’s last record, 2009’s No Wonder, which I liked. That must seem sort of backhanded to someone like Stratton; No Wonder was careful, professional, sophisticated and certainly accomplished. New Vanguard Blues is the exposed heart of No Wonder pulsing sort of grotesquely. It’s unadorned, mostly solo, immediately accessible but insular and isolated. Self-released, self-distributed, tangle-hearted, and equivocal. The temporal and material constraints imposed here have yielded what may very well be a more telling record than even its composed older brother. Strange, perhaps, that the fleshed out No Wonder yielded comparisons to Nick Drake, while this sounds like something unto itself.

“Lying in the Dark” reads like the opportunity No Wonder never provided for Stratton to essentially play the hell out of his guitar; I’m thankful there’s no bass, drums, or keys to muddy up the sublime sound of the twang and strum of the song’s two-bar outro. Likewise the slippery “Bluebells,” which counterposes deft fingerwork and sudden dynamic shifts. One gets the impression that filling these arrangements out with instrumentation would have made it difficult to manage their nuances, flattened the dynamic into deadened consistency. The bumps and bruises of Stratton’s solo guitar more than make up for one’s general acclimation to guitar leads, effects, and general studio trickery.

Which isn’t to say that there isn’t the odd accompaniment, as in the what sounds like hand percussion and electric guitar on “The War is Over,” which is probably the album’s best track, but again it’s that spare, haunted space that makes it so. The song bursts into tortured noise at one point and you’re left wondering if any polished record featuring a full band would have possessed such a cathartic mess. Stratton’s allowed to play with time signatures, with odd inflections and dabbling textures, and does so with dexterity and creativity.

If there’s criticism to be levied against a person who seems like a consummate professional and all-around talented guy, it’s that lyrically most of these songs continue to fall somewhere on the spectrum between the Sacred Girlfriend and the Lost Girlfriend. “The War is Over” is an exception because it seems to assume some semblance of narrative distance—characterization, setting, almost fictive—rather than the rote autobiography of the singer-songwriter, and it’s what makes the song a standout. Generally what steps into strange lyrical fields Stratton may have taken are either passed up or embedded so deeply here that I don’t hear them. “Holy Blonde” in particular, despite its adherence to an album aesthetic over which I’ve been slobbering all review, can’t help but sound like it has stand-in lyrics for something less common.

Is it supreme irony, then, or frustration that New Vanguard Blues is probably Stratton’s best record though it was recorded at a fraction of the expense of his previous two? Is there something to be learned about drawing around oneself strategic limitations in order to focus one’s writing, or is this simply a case of my taste taking over my tongue? I’ll admit to finding some appeal in the simpler notion of the man with the guitar, his upturned hat on the ground. It invites selective engagement, and rewards those who bring to the bargain their time and passion for music. Ultimately that’s what makes this record Stratton’s best: with a pocketful of spare bills, and the industry crumbling around his ears, he still found this record vitally necessary. - Coke Machine Glow

"Will Stratton: What the Night Said < Reviews"

Sometimes, it’s just unfair: a young, budding musical talent who releases an album that exhibits a maturity that’s light years ahead of half the independent artists working today. Indie-lovers everywhere fawned over the whiz-kid of 2006: Beirut’s Zach Condon. In his case, the buzz was well-justified—a kid who wasn’t even 21 released a debut album that lacked any sort of guitars in exchange for gypsy-influenced arrangements hitting an underground mentality, resulting in a amazing debut album well beyond his years.

Enter Will Stratton.

His background is simple: a New Jersey kid whose love of classical music eventually lead him to explore different musical extremes, trying to make it in various punk and ska bands before he discovered his calling as a folk singer. His debut, What the Night Said, is aptly titled—it’s an album designed for late-night driving, evening walks, and quiet introspection. One could do an easy cop-out by comparing it to early Sufjan Stevens, but that comparison is so apparent that even Sufjan himself swings by to play oboe on a few songs (as does Tony Rogers, best known as Jens Lekman’s cellist). Such big-name support is remarkable for a debut album; it’s even more remarkable when you learn that Stratton is only 20 years old.

The album opens with “Katydid”, riding a gorgeous twilight-bound piano line. The song is a musical companion to Sufjan’s more emotional ballads, but the magic truly strikes when Stratton opens his mouth. His voice is simple and plainspoken, each line delivered without an ounce of ego; every word comes straight from the heart. He lays his woes bare in the opening verse:

Why don’t you tell me what’s wrong, baby
I’ll do all that I can
And if it’s about where we’re headed, maybe
You’ve got the wrong man
‘Cos I can see for miles when the sun is up
But it’s midnight and I can’t see at all
It’s so hard and I can’t think at all

It’s an admittance of frustration that doubles over as an acceptance of his own insecurities. One of the song’s closing lines is “We’re still stupid and we’re young”, which fesses up to relationship ignorance on both parts, serving as a breakup lament that’s filled with more ambiguities than finished endings—a closer reflection of real life. It’s a remarkable opener, but sets the bar very high for the songs that follow.

The reason why the rest of the LP works is due to its remarkable brevity. Not a single track clocks over four minutes (with most barely topping three), leaving no time for filler. Stratton gets straight to the point, but never rushes things. Nick Drake’s debut, Five Leaves Left, was one of the finest folk albums ever released, but even then Drake occasionally drifted into the drawn-out epic structure, with songs that began to drift after crossing the six-minute mark. When Stratton’s “Fireflies” comes along, the Drake influence is unmistakable (especially with the parallel melodicism of the acoustic guitar and cello), but it never wanders, making it a far cry from derivative and even closer to full-on homage. The verses are quietly optimistic, occasionally stunning (particularly the line: “These summer nights are like walking through / A hiding place a child found"). Such wide-eyed lyrical wonder used to be commonplace during the rise of Drake and Joni Mitchell in the mid-’70s, but has since become so scant that hearing it now serves as a breath of fresh air. If he was stealing styles for personal gain, each song’s vibe—and end result—would be much different, but since Stratton wears these influences right on his sleeve, we are left with nothing but a love-letter to the greats who have mastered this genre before him (all lovingly tied together with acoustic guitar strings).

Yet a full album of hushed acoustic strumming, admittedly, would be rather dull, which is why Stratton looks to Mark Kozelek’s School of Folk Song Diversity for help. Much like the ex-Red House Painters frontman before him, Stratton has a nice, meaty mid-tempo rocker to pick things up ("Night Will Come”, a dead ringer for Sun Kil Moon’s “Lily & Parrots"). Of course, he can’t completely let a song escape from indie leanings—the opening verse freely quotes from Robert Frost’s “Stopping by Woods on a Snowy Evening”. It’s a pleasant tune that also serves as sharp contrast to the only other upbeat number—“Sonnet”—which just happens to be the album’s weakest moment. Here, his lyrics can still be effective ("So let’s make this distance a little game / We’ll go into the city and disappear / Nothing will ever be the same aside from our first names"), but they also veer dangerously into high-school poetry territory as well ("We’ll ban all mirrors and calendars so we won’t age"). It stands out like a sore thumb because it feels like the most slapped-together song, with haphazard handclaps coming half-way through not sounding joyous at all (and it’s obvious that they’re intended to be). A failed experiment it may be, but it still serves its function of keeping the album diverse and not wallowing.

Aside from “Sonnet”, What the Night Said is a fantastic series of highlights that stand strong by themselves as well as within the context of the album. The Kozelek influence pops up again on “Oh Quiet Night”, but this time tackling Kozelek’s acoustic side (which many might argue is his best), here with Stratton detailing a relationship that starts as simply “friends with benefits” and then turning into something more:

The headlights of a car
Sweep the bedroom walls
The icing of the stars
Makes it seem like the world is ours
And we dissolve
Beneath the covers
While snow blankets everything
In forgiveness

As easy as it would be to play spot-the-influence on each song, that ultimately defeats the purpose that Will Stratton set out to do: make an album of songs that were custom-fitted for listening to at night. Stratton succeeds, and beautifully so. The whole set clocks in at a mere 33 minutes, proving that conciseness often equals consistency. Stratton’s restraint is his strength, making a debut album that arrives fully-formed and ready to prove itself. If What the Night Said is not a straight-up masterpiece, then it’s pretty damn close.

(Rating: 9 out of 10) - Popmatters

"Will Stratton: 'Katydid'"

NPR.org, July 27, 2007 - Will Stratton follows in the footsteps of Beirut, another disarmingly proficient project by an indie-rock prodigy. The 20-year-old's debut album, What the Night Said, is full of mature and sophisticated folk-pop that doesn't sound like the work of a college student. And, much as Beirut's Zach Condon was mentored by Elephant 6 alum Jeremy Barnes, Stratton has functioned under the wing of Sufjan Stevens.

"What the Night Said was written and recorded in high school," Stratton says. "'Katydid' is the oldest song on the album. I wrote it when I was 15 about someone I can barely remember."

"Katydid" features a piano that sounds like it was played in another city, as well as an oboe credited to "a mysterious figure" — most assuredly Stevens. - NPR Music


2007 - What The Night Said
2008 - For No One (Outtakes & B-Sides)
2009 - Vile Bodies EP
2009 - No Wonder
2010 - New Vanguard Blues



“Will Stratton’s songs are beautiful and bracing, despite — or maybe because of — the abstract, ambitious goals that motivate him…[his] songs gain strength from their ambiguity; stylistically, they’re too imaginative to be easily pigeonholed. Sufjan Stevens and Nick Drake both work as reference points; like them, Stratton makes songs that are elegantly orchestrated. But Stratton is rapidly coming into his own.” – David Garland, for NPR Music

“Another disarmingly proficient project by an indie-rock prodigy.” - NPR’s All Songs Considered (Second Stage)

“Stratton has produced something stirring and hyper-personal yet universally beautiful.” – All Music Guide

"There isn’t a bum note on the whole goddamned affair, the guitar playing is gorgeous (at times unbelievable, really), and Stratton’s voice possesses the sort of soft, effortless smoothness where melodies seem to emanate off the surface of it rather than being wrung from the depths." - Coke Machine Glow