Expectations, the third album from Austin group Wild Child since their debut Pillow Talk in 2011, is fantastically, stupendously, superlatively mediocre. Incredibly listenable and innately unimpressive, the record exemplifies how and why good is sometimes just not good enough.
The thesis statement of Expectations simple: Love is hard. People don’t communicate; partners are ambivalent; couples try to make it work when they shouldn’t. The songs are riddled with plays on the idea of expectation — from the sultry, bass-dominated “Think It Over”, to the pensive banger “Eggshells”, to intimate and lyrically beautiful “Follow Me”. All in all, Wild Child succeeds in crafting an extremely standard album about love. However, with a group that has been flirting with fame for coming-on-a-decade, listeners may question if a standard album is enough to keep their attention.
It’s clear that Wild Child wants to seem very casual. Many of the tracks start in an offhand way, utilizing studio sounds to lead the listener in. However, each song itself is pristine– without a chord, note, or rest out of place. Perhaps Wild Child’s album would be a bit more interesting if it was a little more, well, wild. Injecting these fun, offhand introductions into the rest of the tracks would have paid off. There are moments when the band lets go of control, and these bits are glorious. For example, on the title track, Wilson has one moment of untethered passion, where she really lets her vocals rip. “The One”, a delicate diddy that comes near the end, is refreshing because it sounds candid– almost like they recorded it in one take. These tracks seem more personal and fresh, and I wish there were more examples of this kind of carefree creation throughout.
At worst, Wild Child covers the same ground once tread by Jack Johnson, Colbie Caillat, Ingrid Michaelson, and others before them. If those names sound a bit dated, so does Wild Child’s effort on Expectations. The album reflects a genre of carefree, folk music that isn’t really being made anymore– think the Lumineers meets the Curious George soundtrack. Any of the tracks would prove good background music for a commercial about butter. “Break You Down” is the epitome of this– using pre-recorded clapping effects. Opening track “Alex”, an indie-folk wonderland with its harmonious “ooh’s”, a ukulele backbone, and smarmy lyrics (“I can’t hold this in / So I’m going to let it out right now / I wanna hold you close / You’re acting like I want to hold you down”) is another prime example. This album would have been great in the early 2010s. But now, in a world searching for the Next Thing, it’s unclear whether or not there’s still a place for bubblegum folk-pop.
At best, Wild Child almost sounds as good as their contemporaries. Standout track “Back & Forth”– which features an impressive vocal performance by Wilson, interesting choral interjections by her backing band, and a foot-tapping brass section– is great because it’s similar to a Lake Street Dive song. “Sinking Ship” attempts to approach the delicacy of Big Thief or Lucius, but the derivative sinking ship cliche and tired lyrics still result in a product that is lacking. “The One” is reminiscent of acoustic early Edward Sharpe and the Magnetic Zeros, fellow Texan band Oh Hello’s, or a stripped-down track from the Australian sister-brother duo Angus and Julia Stone. Even so, these tracks only come close– never eclipsing the artists they evoke.
In some cases, it’s unfair to hold a group so stringently against others in the same genre. Drawing inspiration from other artists is part of the thing that makes creative work so rewarding. However, Expectations adds nothing to the conversation– instead treading water in tired riffs and oversung sentiments. The songs don’t say anything new. They’re simple, but they’re also stagnant. From a group with so much potential, listeners expect more.
The upshot is that this record is wonderfully produced. The instrumentation is quite beautiful, which is something we’ve come to expect from Wild Child. The tracks stay within the narrative they’ve already created with projects such as 2015’s Runarounds and Fools in 2013. Each track is technically very good, with the potential to find a home on any summer picnic playlist. However, the lack of a build in each track and the album overall makes for a disappointing listen.
All in all, Wild Child’s new record does not live up to expectations.