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CD REVIEW: The Wheel Workers - Past to Present

by: Cyrus Rhodes




Artist: The Wheel Workers
Album: Past To Present
Label: Tinderbox Music

Genre: Alternative Rock, Electronic, Progressive Pop

Sounds Like: They Might Be Giants, Radiohead, Beck, Franz Ferdinand, Death Cab for Cutie

Technical Grade: 7/10
Production/Musicianship Grade: 7/10
Commercial Value: 7/10
Overall Talent Level: 8/10
Songwriting Skills: 8/10
Performance Skill: 7/10
Best Songs: Power, Drone, Fine Time
Weakness: Off Kilter Mix, Winded Songs, More solo segments, No barcode, CD Cover art concept and message




Since late 2010, The Wheel Workers’ crisp sound and intelligent lyrics have earned them growing recognition in Houston’s active indie rock scene. The Wheel Workers have played regularly around Texas, performing at SXSW in Austin, enjoying the honor of playing on the same stage as The Flaming Lips at Free Press Summerfest in Houston, and opening for national touring acts such as Miniature Tigers, Elf Power and The Coathangers. This latest release is entitled “Past to Present” and was released in 201`13. Band members include: Steven Higginbotham - Vocals, Guitar, Ukulele, Jason Williams - Bass Guitar, Craig Wilkins – Guitar, Keyboard, Allison Wilkins McPhail – Keyboard, Vocals.


First up Track 1 “Power” serves up an enticing bass ridden groove meshed against hypnotic lyrical content, strong melody and impressive vocals from Higginbotham. This intro track sets the tone rather well for a fun yet electronic-rock CD like this - I especially like how this one ends fading into oblivion. Track 2 the title track quickly takes flight with the title track a soothing acoustic lullaby that gradually builds into a passionate rock ballad complete with hypnotic vocal presence and a grand slam chorus. Track 3 “Chemicals” serves up yet another superb track with its pulsating lo end beat, and impassioned vocal fee, and thought provoking lyrical content. As these songs slowly unfolded I could hear many musical influences reminiscent of classic They Might Be Giants, Radiohead, Beck, Franz Ferdinand, and Death Cab for Cutie. I would classify this music as Alternative Rock, with a slight aftertaste of Electronica, Ambient Pop, Alternative Sadcore. The songs themselves are addictive, eccentric, fascinating, and very interesting - all reflections of this band. One can't notice intellectual, passionate and powerful subject matter delivered between the spoken word, with a heavy dose of satire on the side. The musicianship, sampling and production touches from al members are rock solid across the board. Higginbotham and company showcase rock solid production instants throughout. Besides the 4 piece standard you will also notice things like thick low end beats and rhythms, impressive sampling, synthetic sound effects, well placed vocals, Keyboards, effective ambient touches, and lush harmonies. Higginbotham is an accomplished composer, musician, vocalist within his own right and he is no doubt the musical mastermind behind all this. Equally as impressive is the how these 4 makes the (singer to listener) vocal connection with his songs. Higginbotham has an appealing timber and crisp, sharp baritone. His voice sounds in the vein of John Linnell (They Might Be Giant). All songs are short and sweet musical experiences, never too winded, never to short. From psychedelic “Drone” to rocking “Fine Time” and zany “Compromise”to methodical Animals” this CD has something for just about everyone. CD Ends with track 12 “Want” the perfect finale statement for a CD like this. During my initial research I discovered this band to be a very hot topic live around the region - another big factor to consider when evaluating a band.


Some aspects of the mix are a bit off kilter, and overly loud. I kept reaching for my volume knob, apparently someone decided to turn it up for me. I don’t recommend you listen to this CD on full volume – your ears and speakers will take a hit. These types of mixes are becoming more and more prevalent and are really designed to maximize radio marketability - but the tradeoff is its comparable to a smushed up face upon a windshield. I don’t care how the vocals sit within the sonic space – a bit synthetic and pushed back.  All songs over 3.5 minutes tend to drag you to the finish line. I wish there were more solo segments throughout the catalog. There is no barcode anywhere on the CD package indicating to me a retail non-compatibility. CD cover art misses the mark - ironically lacking in creativity and personality.  There is no picture of the band anywhere within  the 8 panel insert - a missed opportunity and a bit unorthodox for this style of music. 


In close “Past to Present” by The Wheel Workers is a highly original and fascinating musical experience from start to finish. The music is fresh and highly entertaining. It’s strong suit – its amazing vocal presence and impressive songwriting finesse by this band led by Steven Higginbotham. The songs are extremely melodic, passionate, and captivating. All these songs have a ring of truth to them and are boldly honest in a comical way. Each song possesses a unique personality, flair, and signature groove. The Wheel Workers are a surging artist armed with a brilliant perspective an amazing voice to inspire your vivid imagination. Need I say more?


Cyrus Rhodes