The realm of Indie Pop (capitalization intended) is a mystical place. There are the usual nymphs and faeries, goblins and ghouls, sorcerers and witches. Some boys sound like girls; some girls sound like robots; and some machines sound like both. It’s also a peaceful place, for the most part: Harsh words get thrown like a javelin only when accompanied with a tear and a wink, and no one stays mad for long. Indie Pop is Canada without the cold; Sweden without the cold; and Holland without the, er, well ... okay, it’s basically Holland.
Like giant statues of Stalin during Soviet times, monuments exist throughout Indie Pop, dedicated to the greats: a huge sculpture of Brian Wilson’s hands, a genetically enlarged and plasticized locket of Elliot Smith’s hair and a bust, created out of a lump of coal, of Stephin Merritt.
The atmosphere in Indie Pop is composed mainly of helium and whispers. In the streets, you can always hear the faint murmur of acoustic guitar subtlety layered with strings and a glockenspiel. Most of the time, when people speak, their voices are underscored by sunshiny harmonies.
In place of the usual parliamentary or congressional system, Indie Pop rules with a corduroy fist by the musicians. Belle and Sebastian control a borough, as does the New Pornographers. And, of course, don’t forget Sufjan Stevensville, an odd cross between rural Illinois and urban Michigan. Go figure.
And now, ladies and gentlemen: Wild Light, a band from New Hampshire—of all places—has been deemed fit to represent all of Indie Pop. Based solely on Wild Light’s debut album, Adult Nights, which, while having a truly awful title, serves as a solid Reader’s Digest version of the last ten ears in Indie Pop. Pastoral brilliance of the Magnetic Fields and Matt Pond PA? Check. Playful harmonies of Stars and Fleet Foxes? You bet. Quirky disco pop of MGMT and Cut Copy? Definitely. Nonsensical lyrics of, well, everyone? Hell yeah. As can be inferred from this description, Adult Nights proves an extremely uneven work. But then again, the last decade in Indie Pop classifies as anything but even.
Album opener “California on My Mind” harkens back to Indie Pop’s days of yore. The jangly guitar, messy vocals and harmonica-drenched choruses bring to mind everyone from the Violent Femmes and R.E.M. to Camper Van Beethoven and Tom Petty.
On “Call Home”, Wild Light shows another reason they’d be fit to rule over Indie Pop: diplomacy. Evidently, the band has some chops that show they’d feel right at home in the neighboring lands of Brit Pop and Folk Rock. The song’s keyboard line and harmonies echo bands like Keane and Snow Patrol. Although the lyrics are occasionally absurd, rarely ironic and more times than not inane, but with melodies this catchy who bothers to notice?
Songs like “Canyon City” and “New Year’s Eve” reveal Wild Light’s main strength: vocal harmony. Alone, each of the band’s singers—guitarist Jordan Alexander and multi-instrumentalists Tim Kyle and Seth Pitman—sounds uncertain and nervous. But when the three combine forces, the effect is truly compelling and the songs are incredibly contagious.
Wild Light brings all the Indie Pop tools together on “The Party (Oh, My God!)”, the best song on Adult Nights. All the hallmarks of Indie Pop past, present and future are here: background vocals that would make former tour mates Arcade Fire holler with joy, a terrific bass line that burbles just below the song’s surface and a melody that oozes infectiousness.
Wild Light falters only briefly on “Surf Generation” and “Future Towns”, songs lacking the dynamism and tension of the rest of the album’s 13 tracks. Fortunately, these missteps come early and rarely.
As much as critics of Indie Pop like to compare bands with other bands, they still get a kick out of adjectives like summery, cinematic and shimmering. Adult Nights fits all those nebulous descriptors. Wild Light certainly will not be pegged as the most original, best dressed or smartest band in Indie Pop, but the group wears all of Indie Pop on its proverbial sleeve and seems fit to carry the Indie Pop flag—at least for a little while.