Boy Scouts 2021
Photo: Courtesy of ANTI- Records

Boy Scouts Amble Through Warming West Coast Folk-Pop on ‘Wayfinder’

The latest album from Taylor Vick’s Boy Scouts project, Wayfinder hikes through familiar terrain, but her floaty folk-pop arrangements still resonate.

Wayfinder
Boy Scouts
ANTI- Records
1 October 2021

Oakland folkster Taylor Vick’s first release under her Boy Scouts moniker was a scrappy, self-released collection of literal bedroom pop. According to Bandcamp, the lo-fi debut, humorously titled garagebandaid, was “recorded in various bedrooms using GarageBand around 2009-2010”. As Vick enters her second decade of releasing music as Boy Scouts, she sounds far more polished and self-assured, but no less affecting. She retains the openness that endeared her to listeners back in 2010 yet sheds some of the innocence held by her badge-adorned namesakes.

Wayfinder, Boy Scouts’ fourth full length and second on ANTI- Records, picks up where 2019’s Free Company left off. Though it doesn’t exactly offer anything new, the music manages to swerve predictability. Instead, Taylor Vick is as reliable as a scout leader, leading us through relatable insights on love, loss, and mental health with a balmy looseness, every song more sun-drenched and languorous than the last. The arrangements are slightly more ambitious. She executes them confidently, working orchestral string sections and Hammond organ hums around self-harmonized vocals and acoustic guitar, the two constants across every track. 

The songs on Wayfinder rarely rise out of their seats; many forgo percussion in favor of sparse instrumentation. The only time Vick’s guitar overtakes her vocals is during the outro of “I Get High”, a glimpse of psyched-out fuzz rock that she doesn’t go too near again. She prefers her acoustic guitar to her electric one on this record. The music passes like the cover image suggests—like easing your bare feet in a lukewarm lake as it laps at the bottom of your jeans, blissful yet lonesome. It makes sense for nature’s quiet to permeate the music; it’s where Vick goes to think, where her inspiration is engendered. “I head for the coast, I’ve got to spend time away / My brain is a mess,” she reveals on “Not Today”.

On the second track, “Lighter”, Vick recounts a conversation and conceivably the album’s thesis: “You’d say, ‘Do you even try to remember the good times?’ / And I’d say, ‘Only every night.'” She’s speaking of a relationship, but her tendency to ponder is quintessentially Boy Scoutsian.

Vick is a serial overthinker and wants to escape her brain, as attested by “That’s Life Honey”, the album’s most straightforward indie popper. “I’d figure out how to rewire my brain / If only I had the money”. Despite the bemused shrug of the title, the lyrics are about “wanting to go to therapy but you can’t afford it, and fantasizing about a world where you could get a chip implanted or have some surgery that rewires your brain”, as Vick reveals in a press statement. It’s a painfully relatable sentiment for many and one that elucidates Vick’s heavy ruminations throughout the album—conversations with friends, ex-partners, with herself. The layers of serene vocals trip over one another in the same way her thoughts do, revealing a disquieted mind in the most euphonic way. 

In “Charlotte”, Vick assumes the perspective of an elderly man and reflects on 50 years of marriage as scuttling violins evoke the trickling away of time. It’s one of the few times Vick shifts away from herself, examining long-term love with a propitious detachment. There’s a rare point of contentment with the quietly joyful “Big Fan”, featuring additional vocals from Jay Som’s Melina Duterte. Compact drums and a hopscotch piano line support the optimistic lyrics: “I’m in my groove / Made my last move / A lot less blue / Hope the same for you.” By stepping outside herself to sing about someone else’s relationship—by breaking the thought cycle—she arrives at this place of genial acceptance, her music a substitute for the therapy she cannot afford. 

Elsewhere, “The Floor” has a soul-stirring string arrangement under one of the album’s catchiest choruses. “Now that I have the floor / I want nothing more”. “Didn’t I”, with its warbling country licks, sounds like a more pensive Mac DeMarco. The final track, “Model Homes”, is the most enveloping, an inescapable swirl of infectious melancholy that neatly concludes the album. The vocals are a delicate, high-pitched whisper, while a slide guitar and electric bass move as one, like friends who have her back, agreeing with her poignant postulations—”We don’t say what we both know / Deep down there’s more to show”. On this final track, she’s left the coast, left the comfort of nature, and is instead “Walking around late at night / In the artificial light.”

It seems an apt time to finish; the return to civilization precludes her from having the space she needs to think. Although Boy Scouts’ slacked-out indie-folk reaches its peak on this record, where Vick will go from here is something that will require further lakeside contemplation. 

RATING 7 / 10
PopMatters