Travis Lee Wiggins has been described as prolific, and although it’s accurate, I’m not sure it does him justice. The newest release from his Chicago band Essex Chanel, Love is Proximity, is studio album number eight — not including the many EPs, side projects, unofficial releases, and extracurricular musical endeavors Wiggins is a part of. To top it off, the ten songs on Love is Proximity are the best out of 42 that Essex Chanel worked up over more than two years. The other 32 will be released at two-month intervals as Love is Proximity Sessions, Disks 1, 2, and 3.
Wiggins, who has been creating under the Essex Chanel moniker since 2005, was the driving force on the past albums, and Love is Proximity is quite the departure from that. Nine musicians helped Wiggins create a very thick and textured sound, which is decadent and rich — almost an acquired taste. Mix that with the fact that the entire project is comprised of love songs, and the end result is sugary sweet, inside and out.
While the single, “Skinny Dippin’,” represents the poppy brightness of the album (and probably the whole project), it has many more layers and a bigger focus on instrumentation, which is almost too much at times. However, the rhythm isn’t lost amidst all the strings, harmonica, accordion, horns, and all the rest, and it still manage to bounce freely, with the occasional fit of stomping madness. “The Danger of Taking Things for Granted” is lower and smoother; bongos and a slow-as-avarice tempo make for an almost sultry track.
Lighter songs, like “Already in Heaven” and “For Granted” are nicely contrasted to the heavier tracks. “For Granted” begins with a simple guitar part and Wiggins singing, “Boy, you’re going to miss her when she’s gone/ Don’t take her for granted,” with piano, steel guitar, and ukulele joining in at the chorus. The end result is perfectly balanced, with a beautiful sad hopefulness to it. As is to be expected, there were a few tracks I wasn’t too fond of, but I wouldn’t say they’re duds. And even if they are, the good outweighs what might be bad. On top of that, every song offers something a little different — but with enough connective threads to weave a sort of story.
The goal for Love is Proximity was to create something mainstream, which could even be sold in a Starbucks — a goal that, at first, seems to reek of commercialism. But there’s one shining difference, and it’s that Wiggins is more interested in producing music (good music, at that) than making a profit. Like a growing number of indie musicians, Essex Chanel has streamed Love is Proximity online, so listeners can see if it’s up their alley before purchasing. Additionally, they are offering multimedia in the form of a free songbook with chords and lyrics, free songs before the sessions disks are released, and advanced downloads through their website.
So don’t let the Starbucks thing get you — Wiggins is just another eager, talented musician intent on being heard.