David Wax Museum’s New Homespun, Postmodern Folk Album Euphoric Ouroboric Lushly Captures Life in Quarantine
April 16, 2021
Today, pioneering folk musicians David Wax and Suz Slezak, the plucky husband-wife duo behind the eclectic, exuberant “Mexo-Americana” band David Wax Museum, released Euphoric Ouroboric, their eighth full-length record and the first of several made in their home studio during the pandemic.
After 14 relentless years touring the country and world, half of them with their two young children in tow, COVID’s abrupt disruption created a first jarring, then welcome creative pause for the Charlottesville, VA-based band. Before the pandemic, the ascendant band was enjoying the success of their 2019 release Line of Light (with Austin’s award-winning Nine Mile Records), subsequent national TV debut on CBS This Morning: Saturday, and three distinct features on NPR’s World Cafe. They performed at the wedding of Democratic presidential hopeful (now Transportation Secretary) Pete Buttigieg and his husband Chasten–and then in 2021 their song “Big Sur” debuted on Netflix #1 show, Firefly Lane.
Instead of lamenting the shuttering of their album release tour, they committed themselves to learning how to self-record and quickly enlisted their favorite collaborators to make Euphoric Ouroboric. The album was produced by their longtime collaborator Alec Spiegelman (Okkervil River, Kevin Morby) and features contributions from John Hadfield (Yo-Yo Ma, the Saturday Night Live band), Anthony da Costa (Sarah Jarosz, Joy Williams), Emily Hope Price (D’Angelo, Sting), and Philip Mayer (The Band’s Visit, Natalie Merchant).
The album’s title, Euphoric Ouroboric, captures the emotion and experience of diving headfirst into the world of remote recording, spending hour upon hour “in a jubilant dialogue with the self,” as David puts it. He elaborates, “‘Ouroboric’ comes from the mythological ouroboros snake that eats its own tail. I often felt like there was something self-referential and all-consuming about learning to record and edit oneself. But, at the same time, I was having such a blast rediscovering my love for being ‘in the studio.’”
But what does it mean to make folk music in the midst of a pandemic when no one can be in the same room? And how do artists make a living, breathing album about human connection in the crush of such isolation with every track having to travel across the digital divide? These questions animated the recording process and inspired the blending of drum machine loops with human performances on songs like “Every Bit of Love” and “Helen, Can You Forgive Me?”, the meditations on quarantine (“Pattern of Mind”) with the vocoder delay mirroring the grooves of the mind, and the poignant “Keep Your Light Steady” taking on new resonance, with fans reaching out, describing the band’s weekly live streams as a lifeline during difficult times. “Ghost of Summer” is a reimagining of a traditional Mexican folk song. In Wax’s retelling, it becomes a cautionary tale about navigating summer in quarantine with small children.
Just like that
The year went flat
Now can’t tell any day apart
We go to places
See you no faces
Someone’s dream got left ajar
The band’s genre-defying, shapeshifting personality is on full display throughout the record. The more downtempo, nuanced songs that spring from this slowed-down period allow us to watch the maturation of these artists, as if in real time. And yet the boisterous and bombastic rears its head, making it obvious how a band with this kind of breadth has comfortably shared the stage with acts as diverse as The Avett Brothers, Latin legends Los Lobos and Buena Vista Social Club, and hushed indie darlings Gregory Alan Isakov and Mandolin Orange.
The pandemic may have kept these artists home, but the band’s bleeding heart beats upon the enduring primal need for communion, through the transcendent shared experience of their live music. In the meantime, they offer up Euphoric Ouroboric, a balm for these isolated times, a search for connection and humanity across the digital divide.