By Eleni P. Austin
These Days, pop music is a sea of suspenders, tattooed teen-idols and spokes models. Television is inundated with contest shows that create by committee, replicate and recycle, and test market talent.
Despite this cynical commodification of art, real music still flourishes. You just need to look for it. The Lonely Wild is a band that make music the old fashioned way. By and for themselves.
Andrew Carroll (vocals, guitars) and Ryan Ross (bass, keys, trumpet and melodica) came together in the arty Los Angeles district of Silverlake. Originally, they were part of a group called You & Me & Iowa.
From the ashes of that band they formed The Lonely Wild in 2010. The original line-up included Andrew Schneider, (guitars) Jennifer Talesfore (vocals) and Edward Cercedes (drums, percussion and timpani). In 2011 they recorded an EP, Dead End. Talesfore left the band and Jessi Williams stepped in, touring with the band and recording their first full-length effort, The Sun As It Comes. (Edward Cercedes left the band after the album was recorded and was replaced Dave Farina. )
Rarely has a debut seemed so fully formed, with nary a false move. The album opens with the one-two punch of the title track and “Banks And Ballrooms.” “Sun…” is built around a thumping heartbeat rhythm, lush, albeit lonely harmonies and cascading guitar riffs.
The tune, which was inspired by the Arab Spring, builds slowly… “You can’t ignore the sound of one drum, when it’s played by millions.” Shifting from impossible beauty to controlled chaos in a matter of minutes. (Much like the events that influenced the song).
“Banks And Ballrooms” also offers political commentary. Anchored by a tribal tattoo and cyclonic guitar riffs, the lyrics offer a stinging indictment of greed.. “The richest men carry the country straight to it’s grave.” Midway through, the rhythm shifts to a see-saw cadence, the manic crescendo winds down to a lone note of feedback.
It’s hard to believe that The Lonely Wild is just a five-piece. Their sweeping, cinematic sound feels as though an orchestra is behind them. Never is this more apparent than on “Everything You Need” and “Keep Us Whole.”
The former is powered by a pummeling backbeat and Mariachi horns. A simple declaration of love, “I will beat your heart, if you will beat mine” is tour de force. Sweet and sour harmonies bleed into war cry urgency. At the instrumental break the brass stutters and flutters through the ramshackle rhythm.
Dusty, loping and lonesome, the latter instantly conjures up Spaghetti Western imagery. Accented by Sergio Leone-style melodica, roiling timpani, rippling castanets and coiled guitar, it’s easy to envison a poncho-wearin’ cheroot-chompin’ Clint Eastwood. Perhaps in a clinch with Stevie Nicks’ “Gold Dust Woman.”
With “Closer Than The Needle” and “Come Back,” The Lonely Wild” tackle more personal themes, the intertwined addictions of love and drugs. “Closer…” opens with a series of filigreed guitar notes. Carroll’s lone vocals limn the heartbreak, as Williams provides subtle backing. The lyrics offer love as a substitute for drugs… “Hold me closer than the needle, feel the emptiness I feel/Hold me closer I am real, fill the emptiness you feel-we feel.” The mood is desperate and desolate.
“Come Back Down” is haunted Psychobilly thick with Banshee vocals, pounding percussion and rattlesnake guitar riffs. It feels like “Ghost Riders In The Sky” on acid. But the tumult cannot camouflage the lyrics’ exigent pleas to forsake addiction.
“Flames To Fight,” “Bankrupt” and “Buried In Murder” come across like a song suite that address our global responsibilities. “Flame..” blends a hiccup-y beat, rippling piano fills and piquant guitar licks. Supple harmonies provide a bedrock for soaring guitars, the lyrics offer grim predictions… “All you sleeping children growing unseen in the night/ We’re sowing your forgiveness in the sheets we tuck so tight, we give you nothing but guided light.”
Couched in aching harmonies and a gorgeous melody, “Bankrupt” weds a tick-tock Waltz rhythm to lyrics that criticize the Baby Boom generation who “grew up and grew backwards” from idealists to corporate sell-outs. They have abdicated their responsibilities to successive generations… “We blew smoke and we got really high, a good day for white collar crime/ Pass on the problem when it’s time, say you misjudged this when it’s time.”
Finally, “Buried The Murder” acknowledges we are all complicit for the world’s problems. It’s Sturm Und Drang set to music. A foot stomping dirge, the final verse is a rueful pas de deux between keening guitar and Carroll’s confessional vocals… “When I talk like a liar, when I’ve sold all my dreams/When I stand tall like a monument, that’s when you’ll know I’ll never wash clean.” The song ends with a beautiful piano coda.
Other stand out tracks include the (almost) instrumental of “Who’s Calling,” which is powered by sleigh bells and guitar pyrotechnics. “Over Edgeware” chronicles the urban warfare that still erupts in the mean streets of Los Angeles.
The album closes with the fragile “Over The Hill.” Cautiously optimistic, the slow building tune delivers a momentary respite from our catalogue of woes. A sliver of faith shines through the gloom… “This tired voice may outlive my body, may ride on the wind that’s gonna blow me into dust.”
As wonderful as The Sun As It Comes is, it’s not easily categorized. The band explore myriad influences. Andrew Carroll is the band’s sole composer, but Ryan Ross’ rich arrangements bring each song to life.
The Lonely Wild has produced the best debut of 2013.