Driving is Sam Wilkes’ Indie Rock record. Out October 6th, 2023, it is the first release on Wilkes Records, an imprint borne of the artist’s emergent need to self-release. The songs presented here exist comfortably within the ever-expanding Wilkesian cosmos, characterized as they are by virtuosity, torqued experimentalism, and collaboration with a range of talented musicians. But Driving’s influences, its sincerity, and its allegiance to a certain pop sensibility reflects a departure for an artist who has primarily staked his claim within the experimental jazz idiom. Take the first track, “Folk Home,” which inaugurates the album’s fecundity—a bright, green, humid, summer feel. A swirling, freakout coda of reversed vocals gives way, in no short order, to a caterwaul of flute work that conjures Van Morrison’s (in)famous Astral Weeks sessions. Standing beside Morrison, the usual suspects are all present, if somewhat abstractedly. Dylan, The Dead, Joni, the Fab Four. Wilkes has developed a reputation as an experimental jazz luminary, but his deep affinity for the pop/rock/folk idiom of the latter twentieth century rings clear throughout Driving. More so than any Wilkes release to date, Driving is a collection guided by and dedicated to the man’s attention to songcraft. Written and recorded during a period of rain-damage induced renter’s itinerance (and the attendant desire to produce a kind of therapeutic, self-soothing, home-feeling music), Driving loosely charts the trajectory/experience of “a protagonist,” both Wilkes and not, “who has figured out how to live an enlightened and fulfilled life, but is unable to do so because he thinks about it too much.” This friction is surely relatable — a symptom of our compulsively self-aware present. But Wilkes avoids the obvious pitfalls of public hand-wringing. Rather, Driving’s nine tracks evince a genuine, and mature searching-ness, both sonically and lyrically. The ending refrain of “Own” serves like something close to a thesis— “Letting go // isn’t a concept // it’s an action.” In an attempt to beat back ego, hyper-cogitation, language itself, Wilkes arrives at an axiom that feels so true and familiar, you’d swear you’d heard it one hundred times before. Driving’s final third is, fittingly, its most emotive and cathartic. Tracks seven and eight, “Again, Again” and “And Again,” form a diptych, joined most obviously by the jangling, recursive grooves of guitarist Daryl Johns. Wilkes is said to have encouraged Johns to go “full Lindsey [Buckingham]” (clearly a welcome and resonant prompt), but one also catches stray Knopfler vibes, some intermittent Fripp, and (perhaps more-so in tone than technique) the spirit of DIY prophet and jangling man himself, Martin Newell (the Cleaners from Venus). Wilkes has stated that he finds joy in creating musical environments suitable to the contribution and flourishing of his favorite musicians. Throughout Driving, and in these two tracks especially, he has more than succeeded. The record closes with the titular track: a story-song that, according to Wilkes, poured out of him (melody, composition, and lyrics) in a single sitting. The tale is told plainly, bravely, starkly; a mistake was made, regrets have been had, and all is wrapped up in the recollection of a deeply felt adolescent heartsickness—a time when the narrator was first afire with music and automotive freedom. The song captures the moment when meaning inexplicably falls into place, when a long-nagging memory suddenly assumes narrative form, and the subsequent sense of lightness and unburdening. It is fitting that Driving, a record conceived as a form of self-therapy, should culminate with a sense of humble revelation. That Wilkes is plainly eager to share the vulnerable fruits of this labor constitutes Driving’s joyful offering.