Last year I had the pleasure of seeing Kyle Field, aka Little Wings, live as the opener for Dirty Projectors in San Francisco. His set was a combination of new songs, Be Gulls tunes, and old classics ('Look At What The Light Did Now' was a highlight) and all parts were delivered with some of the liveliest deliveries in ages despite how downtrodden he sounded. But that's been the draw of his music as much as his early experimentation and Elvrum connection. And while albums like his Wonder series and Light Green Leaves have since become hallmarks of his oeuvre and personal favourites, his recent material has been confounding and lacklustre, the sound of an artist who is going by the motions without realising it. Now sans Gulls and back to form, Black Grass may rank amongst the better recent releases from Field. True there are still some dregs of the past floating about, but the highlights are high enough to forget them and accept Little Wings once again.

Kyle Field has kept busy over his break, running his own RAD label, doing art and contributing to other media, but the Little Wings moniker has been all but retired since Soft Pow'r. Opener 'Gold Teeth' begins in medias res, fading in briefly before dropping into the first verse, delivered with a close sense of melancholy that is permeating and engaging. Then the instrumentation fills the space, drums and vocals both slapback echoed, acoustic guitar and bass keeping time as much as percussion. Only when the keyboard enters does the veil lift for a brief second to fully envelop instead of tell. Lyrically all is in line with observations like, "The leaves will change but that won't matter," that resonate in the setting. His delivery is as doleful and straightforward as ever, recalling his contributions to The Singing From Mount Eerie and previous tracks like 'Boom!'. Per usual the matters at hand are usually tied in with some aspect of nature or embedded with a truly organic feel (carboniferous tunes?), but in place of the bland we are treated to such gifts as the entirety of 'Fall Skull' which seems to relate the passing of seasons and time to actual skulls, a fitting but bizarre metaphor that gets the point across. More than this new awakening of lyrical prowess, the embracing of synthesizers forces Black Grass to stand out in the recent release category. As has been tread over briefly already, the instrumentation has a tendency to fill the songs despite their often minimal presence and usage. 'Little Bit' is, at its heart, a guitar and vocal song that instead utilizes clever multi-tracking on Field's voice to recall the more homespun moments of earlier songs while maintaining the cohesiveness of this album.

Overstaying its welcome on this album: 'Stay Joking' and 'Can I Knock On This Door,' two songs under two minutes each that should be great but instead often feel like roadblocks or patches of audio molasses to slog through after the umpteenth listen. When these songs were fresh, all was well, but by the third or fourth listen they became skippable and unworthy of standing in the way of better compositions with their almost over-baked execution. At the end of Black Grass I am at least able to look back fondly overall and actively look forward to future material from the Little Wings camp. Welcome back, Kyle. It's been too long.

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