Stately, hazy, guitar-laced, and ear-worm-y (in a good way), “Wonder” nods at some of contemporary pop’s aural trimmings while delivering songcraft and instrumentation unlike what our 2010s popsters tend to busy themselves with. San Mei—the stage name for Australian singer/songwriter/guitarist Emily Hamilton—is committed unabashedly to the guitar, so that’s an ear-opening contrast to today’s music scene right there. And yet, with its somewhat processed, clipped ambiance, this doesn’t sound like anyone’s father’s rock’n’roll either.
And, I have to say, one of the song’s ongoing pleasures is hearing Hamilton’s light and agile voice—which one can with no difficulty imagine layered over an electronic beat, with an easily conjured battery of back-up dancers—fronting a song that drapes its pop-inflected fabric over a sturdy body of guitar squonks and sirens. The opening testifies to what we’re in for: first, a hint of shimmery electronics, but, no, what’s really happening is the guitars are warming up (listen for the subtle scratch of electric guitar strings at 0:05). “Wonder” proceeds to launch off an honest-to-goodness guitar riff, and is driven throughout via a creative variety of electric guitar tones and etchings, including something of a psychedelic freakout at 2:23.
But there is more than guitar worship going on here. “Wonder” is structurally impressive, with its double-time tag in the verse, balanced by a pre-chorus slowdown, all leading to a chorus so solidly chorded that I’m tempted to call it anthemic were it not also so effortlessly presented—a kind of “Who, me?” approach to anthemic rock’n’roll.
San Mei was born as a laptop-based bedroom pop project, but Hamilton soon aimed her sights on a larger instrumental palette than a MIDI keyboard offered—by which of course I mean guitars: fuzzy, intersecting, drony guitars. After a debut EP in 2017. San Mei returned this year with the four-song Heaven EP, released in September. You can hear the whole thing over on SoundCloud.