[14 April 2006]
After sending music scribes scrambling for their postmodernism readers with their self-titled debut, Baltimore’s Wilderness is back with more of their ballistic psych punk. And to quote one of their song titles, “It’s all the same”. The cascading guitars, the pounding drum beat, the seductive basslines, the vocal barking; the Wilderness band are here again. And they are here to say… it’s all the same?
Yes, for a band as into repetition and reiteration as Wilderness, it won’t surprise (or disappoint) fans of their first album that Vessel States doesn’t sound all that different from Wilderness. They maintain the same intensity of instrument and intention. Their calls at conventional societal structures and strictures resound once again—however vague they may be. It’s another set of nine same-sounding songs that ebb and flow like an ocean of molten lava.
And as much as this album doesn’t diverge from the band’s original template, it remains an album of rare potency. A display of force as much as other fledglings like British Sea Power or Editors could ever wish for. It’s still ridiculous, but the vacuum the band creates is mesmerizing nonetheless. It’s almost astonishing that a song such as “Death Verses” can succeed thanks to (or in spite of) lyrics like, “they are hiding in plain sight, o they’re hiding in… the death verses=entertainment, the death verses….” So no matter their dubious militancy, the Wilderness band is making some outstanding sounds. And when they measure their intensity with buoyancy, in songs like “Emergency” and “Monumental”, this band verges on greatness.
But no matter how remarkable their music may be, seemingly an island unto itself, Wilderness can be stultifying and self-negating. They are a very serious band; thinkerly and pompous. Their music soars so high-minded that it’s hardly relatable on any practical level. It’s even hard to imagine them in a live show context, like they only exist in some grand anti-authoritarian fiction—the sonic equivalent of an Orwellian machine of sedition. And as logic would follow, their music is generally off-putting, coming off overly severe and easily disposed as pretentious artfulness.
And as one music critic at cokemachineglow wrote, “someone needs to tell them that just sounding important doesn’t mean they actually are important.” This notion has stuck with me as I listened to Vessel States and re-visited Wilderness. Underground agitprop rock music definitely engenders the “tree falling in the forest” effect. Because at the end of the day not many are listening to this stuff and not much is left in its wake. Wilderness, in effect, is preaching to the choir and basically echoing the feelings of a likeminded disaffected counter culture. And the wheels go round and round.
But after listening to this confident new release, it would seem the vainglorious foursome aren’t staggered in the face of such criticism. And I’m pretty sure it doesn’t matter either way. We’ve already got an infinite amount of self-important rock bands singing cryptically about failed romance, what’s wrong when a band chooses instead to sing cryptically of failed politics (or whatever the fuck Wilderness is on about). “Hello critics the bad mind o burn out the bad mind, hello critics your bad mind, burn out your bad mind, the critic the bad mind… o burn out your bad mind.” Or so the song goes.