The tinier the pieces, the bigger the puzzle. As if sonically gluing together a mosaic, Nashville-based Glass Dove assembles sweeping alternative pop anthems D.I.Y. from shards of live guitar, MIDI, and synths. Those pieces also mirror two distinct halves of founder Josh Benus’s personality. Combining artistic seriousness with clever intuition, the lifelong musician will dissect a turning point in his life by sharing a granular detail—whether he likens old friends to “a pack of cigarettes we smoked just yesterday” or compares arguments to “long-winded games of chess that you never win.” In 2021,the vocalist, multi-instrumentalist, and producer explores the push-and-pull of personal and universal dichotomies on his independent full-length debut, Half Life Wilderness, produced by Owen Biddle [The Roots, John Legend]. He spent the past three years molding, tinkering, and shaping the music to comprise a whole greater than the sum of its parts, yet reverent of every nuance.
For as otherworldly as the final product feels, it all began in the most organic way possible in the Smoky Mountains during a week of writing and recording…
“It started with me and Owen in a room with a laptop, a microphone, a MIDI controller, and a pocket synth,” recalls Josh. “It completely blossomed from there into something meaningful for me. The sound is meant to be much bigger than that. I try to approach it from a holistic standpoint and ask questions like, ‘Is this cathartic for me? Is it universal? Will it be cathartic for somebody else? How does it relate to what’s going on in the world?’ There’s a very serious side of the refinement process. I’m always dedicating myself to the craft of songwriting, getting better, and learning from the past in order to do something new.”
For as much as his past impacted the process, it really marked the start of a new chapter for Josh as Glass Dove. With Owen, he built a sound that’s as intimate as it is infectious, integrating this mélange of detuned acoustic guitars, vintage synths, and off-kilter beats. In essence, it sounds like starting over—but for the first time…
“Half-Life Wilderness is expansive,” he goes on. “I’ve always loved periods of time where art highlighted what was going on in that era—whether it’s in society or in the artist’s life. With music, you juxtapose colors. I love sad songs that sound happy. I detuned an acoustic guitar to C-standard and wrote on that for some songs. The rest was written on old synths. There was something different about it.”
Illumination came to Benus on dark wings: Love shrouded by weary ennui on his debut single, “Cigarette Sunset” [feat. Liz Cooper & the Stampede]. Glitchy percussion bristles against the reverb of a heavenly harmony between Liz and Josh as the track climaxes on an elegant and entrancing hook steeped in intoxicating nostalgia. Elsewhere, the breathy delivery of “Patterns of My Mind” entwines with airy synths and washed-out guitar, transmitting the “feeling of missing somebody who you’re just not on the same page with.” Then, there’s the opener “Just A Conversation.” Neon keys encase a buoyant beat as he croons, “I appreciate the sentiment, but I can see right through it.” Warbling funky bass winds through “On My Own” as his storytelling come into focus on the verses before a hummable chorus. Meanwhile, “Hollywood Goldmine” bottles the gloss and glitz of Sunset Boulevard’s empty promises inside of a rich hook.
“The songs have a similar thread,” he elaborates. “Thematically, they’re about a lot of dysfunctionality in relationships. They were written before 2020, but a lot of it was strangely tied to how the country felt throughout the last year. I initially wrote some very specific autobiographical things, but most of the concepts took on a new meaning—like they were right for the time. How did we come to this Half Life Wilderness?”
That’s the point the album reaches. Everything culminates on the lush and lively cinematic send-off of the title track “Half-Life Wilderness.” “‘Half-Life’ is the time it takes for something to decompose in nuclear fallout,” he explains. “‘Wilderness’ is the middle of nowhere. Those two things sound pretty evocative to me. That’s what happened in my life. It was like nuclear fallout. I torched the whole thing, looked around, had a brand new fresh start, and decided where to.”
In the end, this debut is a first step down a longer path toward new personal and musical adventures. As a meditation on life’s shadows, as an example of rock-solid craftsmanship and freewheeling imagination, he’s bringing listeners along with him as Glass Dove and offering what might just be a communal catharsis.
“I want it to be as cathartic and healing for other people as it was for me,” he leaves off. “The production was very nuanced and calculated. There are textures throughout the whole record. There’s a common thread. Ultimately, I hope it makes you feel a little better.”