Will Sprott, songwriter and 1/4 of the reliably brilliant Shannon and the Clams, says this of his latest solo effort: “To me the record is about death and birth.” He’s always had an economy with words and his emotionally perceptive writing shines on Natural Internet, a solo project to be jointly released on Needle To The Groove & Hairdo Records this coming July.

The Mumlers, Sprott’s first band, was a memorable bright spot from the early 2000s out of San Jose, California. Their melodic, jangly songs helmed by Sprott produced two albums on Galaxia. This gave way to solo albums before joining Shannon and the Clams as a keyboardist. After six albums, three EPs, and two decades perpetually touring the world for one project or another, Sprott’s landing on his latest independent work, Natural Internet, an easy-going opus made during unnerving times.

Explaining the project, Sprott says: “My childhood best friend was shot to death in an unsolved murder many years ago. After not seeing him for a long time and wondering what was up with him, I did an internet search of his name and found a local newspaper article about his murder. Death was already looming heavily in my mind before Covid shut the world down. People’s lives veered more heavily online. Where I currently live seemed to be perpetually on fire and shrouded in smoke. The George Floyd protests were happening. QAnon weirdos were ascending the ladders of power. Everything felt very tenuous and whenever I stared into the portal of the internet, I felt like the whole world was cracking up.”

Natural Internet isn’t as dour as it would seem. Bound with bright tones, it’s vulnerable to be sure, but never wallowing—a range of mystical ballads to spaced-out country rockers and sci-fi cruisers, touching on liminal states, mysteries, jokes, and beauty, all told through Sprott’s singular worldview. Synths, harmonica, drum machines, steel guitar, and bowed upright bass all orbit his words, giving the songs—and project as a whole—so much color. Friends that assist Sprott’s dedicated memento mori include bass and pedal steel by Luke Bergman (who plays with Bill Frisell) and Kristian Garrard on drums and percussion. Subtly striking appearances by Abbey Blackwell (of Alvvays) and Shana Cleveland (of La Luz) are also part of the program.

“Strange Lines” video by Will Sprott

In 2018 Sprott and his partner, the aforementioned Shana Cleveland, moved to the small town of Grass Valley in the foothills of the Sierras in Northern California from Los Angeles. The extreme shift from megalopolis to living on a dirt road surrounded by weed growers and wild animals was another force that informed his writing.

Plenty of things were made during Covid but this feels extraordinarily earnest—a vulnerable effort assembled during a true transitional life stage of a musician that carries elements of catharsis and celebration that never overstep or feel forced. “I meant for these songs to be soothing and helpful—a psychic balm,” he quietly says.

Death imbues the project but so does birth, says Sprott: “My son was eight months old when lockdowns began. I was grateful to get to be with him in those early days of his life while he bloomed into consciousness—so much joy taking him on walks every day, seeing him notice the moon for the first time, be awed by pinecones, flowers, snow and eventually start attaching words to the world.”

Sprott’s subdued yet punctuating voice guides every song except the albums two instrumental bookends; “Touch Milk” and “Airplane With Lights On” are titles cribbed from phrases uttered by his then one-year-old in reference to breast feeding and blinking lights shuttling across the night sky. He calls his work “odd-shaped folk” but he’s a soul-man at heart, with a range of influences from Bobby Bland to Shuggie Otis, to Mort Garson and early doo-wop, even hints of Arthur Verocai.

Sprott, who plays guitar and keyboard, and whose vocals are the lead instrument on the experience that is Natural Internet, lists some of its impetuses thusly: “While thinking about mass trauma, nature, climate catastrophe, gun violence, racism, cops, power, vivid dreams, murder, information, misinformation, homelessness, the city, the country, global interdependence, media and language… the title, Natural Internet, appeared.”