Los Angeles has a habit of sounding like this: neon, night-time, buzzy, empty. The cars weave through the woozy right-angles of the traffic grid, steaming west on Pico or Olympic, everything tilting southwest as the ocean approaches, driving through warm night air toward or away from one of the city’s many centers. It means nothing, this space between ocean and desert, a group of human beings lodged in the most interstitial of all places, grinding out something glossy from a series of moral failings and personal compromises. On debut full-length, No Moon at All, the trio from their sonic and geographic city of origin, Wildcat! Wildcat!, channel this type of complexity, crafting anthems made for night driving toward nothingness, the neon nihilism of the most American of all cities not named Chicago or Las Vegas.
Relying on production help from M83’s Morgan Kibby has Wildcat! Wildcat! moving beyond the cute hooks of their first single, “Mr. Quiche”. No Moon at All single “Hero” still features some of the same quaint, afterschool keyboards, but the band aims for something more grandiose in the lyrical content – “I’m taking on your hero” – and sound, a buzzing anthem made for the miles above the speed limit if not the dance floor. “Garden Greys”, a song from last year’s self-titled EP, reappears here in the same form, a saccharine series of hooks riding over bubbling keyboard line. It isn’t quite Songs About Jane days for these LA kids, but the pop aspirations sound similar if the aesthetic emerges as a bit darker. Potential second single, “Circuit Breaker” sends the synthesized keyboards somewhere more downcast, building to a chorus of “Is there anybody out there?” They hope so.
The listener won’t believe the emotional stakes are terribly high here – the band sounds too hedonist, too solipsistic for more than passing pessimism. Still, Wildcat! Wildcat! at least aspires to depth, even when it sounds superficial on silly lyrics like “I will wait for you, I fell in love again.” If the landscape is heartbreak, and the title itself might suggest something of the sort, the band only holds the listener in the landscape of the heartbroken for an instant. On “Holloway (Hey Love)”, the lyrics suggest trouble, but the sound would challenge even Polyphonic Spree for unfiltered ebullience in the refrain. If this is misery, happiness might well be a jet-engine spitting terrifying levels of treble.
On penultimate track, the aptly titled, “Sentimental”, a dangerous subject heading for any serious artistic project, Wildcat! Wildcat! is back on the topic of failure and love. The emotional trigger is as flat as the orange florescence of the Los Angeles streetlight. We drive on to the next bar or restaurant in our little compartmental selves, unable to connect, some post-Less Than Zero group of hooks that haven’t successfully hijacked the conventions of emptiness. It’s insouciant, not deep. The band takes the listener to “Marfa” on the bouncy last song. Leaving LA has the band soaring “You don’t have to be on your own,” though the cynicism is already too deep for the effecting final sing-along takes hold. Wildcat! Wildcat! want to be about something, this is certain, but like their city of origin, they remain too lost in themselves to appeal broadly to the human condition. The hooks are here, even when the lyrics aren’t: a pleasant night drive to absolutely nowhere.