pitchfork’s review of belly of the lion:
Already David Wingo’s résumé has been discussed almost as much as his music. He is a film composer by day, most notably for the movies of southern director David Gordon Green (including his upcoming Snow Angels), and this experience may or may not be relevant to his debut with his band Ola Podrida. It’s tempting to read these 11 songs on the group’s debut as extensions of Wingo’s soundtracks, as the band name implies: Ola Podrida is a variation on the Spanish term olla podrida, which refers specifically to a stew and generally to any sort of miscellany. Podridaitself means rotten, suggesting a dish made of ingredients unused in previous recipes. The implication is that this group is a secondary outlet for Wingo and the album a catch-all for mood-setting music that didn’t fit into a film.
If that’s really the case, it’s impossible to tell. Ola Podrida is a cohesive, confident album full of folky, quiet guitars and thoughtful lyrics that coalesce into complete songs. But what sets the group apart from similar acts like Iron & Wine and Paul Duncan is its cinematic flair: Wingo treats his words like images, so that the music acts like a soundtrack that gently reinforces their meaning and impact. These songs are like short films– action sequences (the fiery “Cindy”), montages (the humorous “Photo Booth”), denouements (the stark closer “Eastbound”)– but the band’s spartan sound never makes that idea too obvious. Ola Podrida, which began with Wingo as its sole member but has grown to a full lineup, make the most of only a handful of instruments: Acoustic guitars pluck ruminative melodies while synths softly suggest atmosphere. Singing with an open twang that sounds both observant and expressive, Wingo performs most songs by himself, even playing piano on “Eastbound”.
Appropriately, Wingo’s lyrics emphasize the visual, and his songs are full of off-hand concrete imagery, such as these lines from “Day at the Beach”: “I played in the waves like a five-year old, timing my jumps with the rolling tide”. However, the songs are most effective when he leaves certain specifics to the listener’s imagination. In the middle of the plaintive “Run Off the Road”, in which a woman gauges her life’s course through the changes in her old home, he sings, “When you showed up at the farm, visions of the summer flying past you/ The foxes had torn up the mother and her pups, and the well was full of flies.” The violence occurs off-screen, but its aftermath lingers in this southern gothic quatrain, feeding the song’s meaning and mystery.
All is not so bleak. “Photo Booth”, about lovers slowly growing apart, repeats a playful refrain: “Dog’s asleep out in the yard, cat’s up on the roof/ We’re out drinking at the bar, down each other’s pants in the photo booth.” Wingo’s characters– all of the lovers, friends, acquaintances, passers-by who inhabit these songs– hover teasingly between real and fictional, suggesting typical songwriterly confessionalism but slyly undermining those expectations. For this reason, “Jordanna” is one of the album’s many triumphs, showcasing not only Wingo’s shapeshifting songwriting (in which verses bleed into choruses with such fluidity that it’s often difficult to distinguish the two) but also his descriptive powers. The song is an ode to a powerful performer, and the words and music give listeners front-row seats: “You drink from your flask and ask if anyone here has a favorite,” he sings, then adds, “I don’t care what you play, just do it in your old fashioned way.” Wingo sounds like he wants to believe in the power of music to set the world to rights, and on “Jordanna” he comes away with what seems at first like cold comfort, but reveals a musical generosity that’s almost like a mission statement: “I don’t know if there’s any point to it all, but I sure like hearing your voice.”