Andrew McMahon finds himself in the wilderness

Musician Andrew McMahon performing at a show in Seattle, Washington.
(Photo Credit: Google Images)

Andrew McMahon is a man of many talents and many names. Since his start in alternative rock music, he has changed his band’s name four times from pop- punk Something Corporate to the piano-driven Jack’s Mannequin to the electro- pop Andrew McMahon to his newest moniker, Andrew McMahon in the Wilderness. Despite The Pop Underground EP’s success, under his actual name, McMahon still was not satisfied and decided this past summer that he would undergo another name change, this time to Andrew McMahon in the Wilderness. His new name was actually inspired by the creation of his newest self-titled LP, which was just released on October 14th.

In order to make the new album, McMahon actually ventured out to the Topanga Canyon to an isolated cabin that was quite literally in the wilderness. It was there that McMahon wrote every track that appears on the new album. On the newest LP, we see a fantastic blending of what fans have come to love about McMahon, which includes fantastic lyrics, dynamic instrumentals, catchy beats, and his signature tenor voice.

What is new to this album is McMahon’s use of electronic elements that are more along the lines of what we saw on The Pop Underground. As usual, Wilderness is an experience, just as all Andrew McMahon albums are. The first track is “Canyon Moon,” which is almost hypnotic and haunting. It captures its listener’s attention right away, as the journey with McMahon begins. In the song, a woman is pulled into this California lifestyle that she cannot seem to escape.

“McMahon provides an overview of his own life and various experiences that shaped the man he has become through “Cecelia and the Satellite” and “High Dive.” “Cecelia” is quite addictive and has already garnered almost one million listens on Spotify since its early-September release.

The album also features two gorgeous ballads, “See Her on the Weekend” and “Rainy Girl,” which both feature a beautiful simplistic piano paired with his voice. “Black and White Movies,” and “Halls” speak about a lost love that haunts his every thought. “Halls” is particularly eerie, in his idea that his love lingers in the halls of his memory.

“All Our Lives,” in my opinion, is the best track on the album. In it, McMahon reflects on his own regrets, in addition to those of his friends. My personal favorite line from the song is when McMahon sings “If I could tell her one thing, I would tell her this: there are only two mistakes that I have made. It’s running from the people who could love me best and trying to fix a world that I can’t change.” Here, McMahon is brutally honest, but I think this is where his music is different from anything else that I have listened to.

McMahon’s lyrics are truly poetic. In the literal sense, we see the use of rhyme. In addition to the poetic form, though, McMahon weaves beautiful metaphors into his songs. McMahon is evidently quite fond of sky metaphors, as they are frequently featured within his music. He relates the sky to his personal life, but, in doing so, I think he relates it to all of his listeners’ lives.
In my personal all-time favorite McMahon song, “Caves,” which is on The Glass Passenger when he performed as Jack’s Mannequin, he sings “Everything is a piece of everyone, as far as I can see.”

This is the McMahon’s mantra, so to speak, and he allows this to come through in his music. He wants his listeners to be a part of his music and he writes about experiences that we have either experienced or could imagine experiencing. Each album is a different journey. In Andrew McMahon in the Wilderness, his listeners are transported into his California dream in “Canyon Moon” and they are not released until the concluding track, “Maps for the Getaway.”

In this sense, the journey is full-circle, as his listeners become a part of his world until they decide to escape it after “Maps for the Getaway” (or they could just start the experience over again like I do.)

McMahon is the epitome of what good music allows us to do—it allows us to enter a world and if it is powerful enough, it becomes a part of our world, if only for an hour. Good music should touch its listeners and it should be approachable enough that the listener feels something during it, whether it stirs an emotion, gives us the desire to do something, or makes us forget the surrounding world for just a moment.

McMahon had to go out to the wilderness to create this album, but I think that he found something more important than creative inspiration. I believe that he used his creative outlet to find himself, which is exactly what music allows its listeners to do. Great music allows its listeners to find themselves within a song. McMahon’s wilderness was literal, but it was also figurative.

It allowed him to break free from the strains that his previous career had placed upon him and to find what he wanted to become. I think we could all benefit from a trip to the figurative wilderness and McMahon’s new album is a testament to what can be achieved when that happens.

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Author: Isabel Gibson Penrose

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