The Last Names is a new project started by married couple Justin Rice and Darbie Nowatka, who are also part of indie-pop act Bishop Allen. Wilderness marks their first collaboration as a duo. They recorded it and mixed it themselves, so from top to bottom, it is theirs. But if on paper it sounds like a big love-in for a married couple, the actual music is quite a bit more than that. They have stepped away from the brighter sounds of Bishop Allen to make something murkier, moodier, gauzy with layers, but rich in immediate melodies.
The ringing swirl of guitars on shuffling standout “The Dirt”, the hushed, fragile sway of “One Black Feather”, the lean thump of “Vacant Lot”—each turn takes us down a new path in their gossamer pop sound. The tones here, part nostalgic fade, part rolling pastoral folk, are the perfect backdrop for the duo’s carefully built vocal harmonies. With her own rangy voice, and carefully applied reverb, Nowatka plays the charming and bittersweet chanteuse in these songs, while Rice drops his register to be the Lee Hazlewood to her Nancy Sinatra. Wilderness is an assured and well-built pop record top to bottom, one that will likely draw new fans while also appealing to Bishop Allen followers. More importantly, though, it’ll surprise those BA fans at every turn, not with just how different it is, but how good these new songs sound.