Wilderness: Wilderness

Liam Colle

Bombastic art-rock for vocal fetishists. This might break your head.



Label: Jagjaguwar
US Release Date: 2005-07-05
UK Release Date: 2005-07-25
Amazon affiliate

Nothing significant can result from cowering to discretion and playing it safe. If musicians are not prepared to forget trends and expectations, then why bother? Whether it works or not, overstatement is vastly more interesting to listen to than whimpering mediocrity. Lately, even independent artists seem inclined to travel down paths more travelled. Every band sounds like some other band and that band really aped the sound of some band 20 years dead. This pussyfooting is getting more and more familiar, and it's boring. Inevitably, the past will fuel what's to come, but too often all the rehashing comes off as insincere. It's too damn easy to hide behind your influences. Shit, I don't care if a band directly lifts Joy Division basslines or the Clash guitar parts note for note. Really though, there's has to be a point where so-called artists place their own ideas and personalities before their record collections. When there's urgency and purpose behind the work, then that will inevitably outshine any insufficiencies. That's the kind of transcendental drive that fuels Baltimore's Wilderness and their debut album. Sure, their exultant agit-rock can get silly ostentatious, but at least there's something to it, something severe. From the album art right down to the last song Wilderness is unabashedly extremist.

Wilderness enters the fray with a daunting work that requires you to leap. You'll probably have to suspend beliefs and shelve your cynicism. This 10-song debut demands you shut out everything else and pay attention. It's an album that defies the listening context in which you experience it. Its character is so confident that it doesn't matter if you listen to it during day, night, work or play. I've listened to it in the car, at work, going to bed, waking up, in the kitchen, outdoors, and it's always the same trip. Wilderness is such an audacious work that it is probably better suited for mountaintops and skyscrapers. One thing is for sure; this band is not interested in making background music. Their songs are sublime and obnoxious and sure to inspire revulsion as much as admiration. Wilderness definitely stands in its own enormous class, and whether you attend to it or not, there will be no fencing. The universal "I don't like the singer" rationalization for not liking a band is sure to echo profusely as far as Wilderness is concerned. But as the maniac vocals and enveloping psychedelics suggest, this band doesn't seem interested in attracting casual fans.

Above and beyond the sprawling guitars and swelling drums, Wilderness really owes their bombast to their vocalist. Taking cues from the long line of bizarro crooners, Jim Morrison, Ian Curtis, and David Byrne; James Johnson takes the pulpit and unloads. His style falls somewhere between a dictatorial cultural theorist and a rocket propelled grenade launcher. He shouts his way through smartly entertaining lyrics that encroach on usually esoteric territory. Hyperreality never seemed such an amusing place to live. With miraculously agile aplomb, Johnson stutters through lines like "o computer computer in your money moment as what there is to see... glowing in the secret o modernity ity...." Now depending on the listener's particular expectations of rock music, this kind of intellectual sermonizing might be too pompous to bear. But therein lies the charm of the Wilderness vocal template. It's so flamboyant that it retains enough humour to be tolerated. Singing along to the ravings about foreign lands and media inundation, there's no option but to share a smile with Johnson and company.

Along with the hurtling vocals, Wilderness' musical tempers are characterized by excess. The guitars on this album are bright and brilliant, somewhere between Mogwai and bliss. As well, the rolling drums add to the resplendent atmosphere created on Wilderness elevating their sound above somewhat likeminded bands that tend to tread more menacingly. But again, what really separates Wilderness from the theatre rock crowd is their vocal aesthetic. This notion is reaffirmed by the two instrumental tracks included on the album, which both come off as stunted in relation to the other more rousing tracks.

"We are the wilderness band and we're here to say...." These guys obviously aren't much for subtlety and their one trick can grow tiresome, but when it hits, it's damn captivating. Wilderness's strength and weakness, then, is its hammering confidence. The band has created such soaring results, that it rarely breaks from that formula. It is a relatively leaden album next to its fairly swift running time. Considering the fact that it's the band's debut, then that can be forgiven and understood. There's no doubt that the guys from Wilderness are seriously in love with their band right now and, for the most part, that translates to an invigorating album. Songs like "It's All The Same" and "Post Plethoric Rhetoric" are not just huge, but hugely inspiring. And since overwhelming can play to both positive and negative effect, this album is likely to both frustrate and elevate. Either way, Wilderness thankfully plays to extremes, exploiting music's never boring virtue -- radicalism.


Cover down, pray through: Bob Dylan's underrated, misunderstood "gospel years" are meticulously examined in this welcome new installment of his Bootleg series.

"How long can I listen to the lies of prejudice?
How long can I stay drunk on fear out in the wilderness?"
-- Bob Dylan, "When He Returns," 1979

Bob Dylan's career has been full of unpredictable left turns that have left fans confused, enthralled, enraged – sometimes all at once. At the 1965 Newport Folk Festival – accompanied by a pickup band featuring Mike Bloomfield and Al Kooper – he performed his first electric set, upsetting his folk base. His 1970 album Self Portrait is full of jazzy crooning and head-scratching covers. In 1978, his self-directed, four-hour film Renaldo and Clara was released, combining concert footage with surreal, often tedious dramatic scenes. Dylan seemed to thrive on testing the patience of his fans.

Keep reading... Show less

Inane Political Discourse, or, Alan Partridge's Parody Politics

Publicity photo of Steve Coogan courtesy of Sky Consumer Comms

That the political class now finds itself relegated to accidental Alan Partridge territory along the with rest of the twits and twats that comprise English popular culture is meaningful, to say the least.

"I evolve, I don't…revolve."
-- Alan Partridge

Alan Partridge began as a gleeful media parody in the early '90s but thanks to Brexit he has evolved into a political one. In print and online, the hopelessly awkward radio DJ from Norwich, England, is used as an emblem for incompetent leadership and code word for inane political discourse.

Keep reading... Show less

The show is called Crazy Ex-Girlfriend largely because it spends time dismantling the structure that finds it easier to write women off as "crazy" than to offer them help or understanding.

In the latest episode of Crazy Ex-Girlfriend, the CW networks' highly acclaimed musical drama, the shows protagonist, Rebecca Bunch (Rachel Bloom), is at an all time low. Within the course of five episodes she has been left at the altar, cruelly lashed out at her friends, abandoned a promising new relationship, walked out of her job, had her murky mental health history exposed, slept with her ex boyfriend's ill father, and been forced to retreat to her notoriously prickly mother's (Tovah Feldshuh) uncaring guardianship. It's to the show's credit that none of this feels remotely ridiculous or emotionally manipulative.

Keep reading... Show less

If space is time—and space is literally time in the comics form—the world of the novel is a temporal cage. Manuele Fior pushes at the formal qualities of that cage to tell his story.

Manuele Fior's 5,000 Km Per Second was originally published in 2009 and, after winning the Angouléme and Lucca comics festivals awards in 2010 and 2011, was translated and published in English for the first time in 2016. As suggested by its title, the graphic novel explores the effects of distance across continents and decades. Its love triangle begins when the teenaged Piero and his best friend Nicola ogle Lucia as she moves into an apartment across the street and concludes 20 estranged years later on that same street. The intervening years include multiple heartbreaks and the one second phone delay Lucia in Norway and Piero in Egypt experience as they speak while 5,000 kilometers apart.

Keep reading... Show less

Featuring a shining collaboration with Terry Riley, the Del Sol String Quartet have produced an excellent new music recording during their 25 years as an ensemble.

Dark Queen Mantra, both the composition and the album itself, represent a collaboration between the Del Sol String Quartet and legendary composer Terry Riley. Now in their 25th year, Del Sol have consistently championed modern music through their extensive recordings (11 to date), community and educational outreach efforts, and performances stretching from concert halls and the Library of Congress to San Francisco dance clubs. Riley, a defining figure of minimalist music, has continually infused his compositions with elements of jazz and traditional Indian elements such as raga melodies and rhythms. Featuring two contributions from Riley, as well as one from former Riley collaborator Stefano Scodanibbio, Dark Queen Mantra continues Del Sol's objective of exploring new avenues for the string quartet format.

Keep reading... Show less
Pop Ten
Mixed Media
PM Picks

© 1999-2017 All rights reserved.
Popmatters is wholly independently owned and operated.