Wild Pink – ILYSM
Indie Rock | Americana
If I wanted to describe Wild Pink to someone in one word (and sound like an insufferable hipster in the process) I would say: vibes. The greatest strength of both 2018’s Yolk in the Fur and last year’s A Billion Little Lights was their sense of consistency and flow. The albums would immerse you in their atmospheric synth driven Americana and you would be along for the ride for the duration. Each track flowing seamlessly into the next, a mere fragment of the the whole just passing on the torch to the next in line. Records greater than the sum of their parts, with every moment serving to grow and maintain the same air of warmth and comfort throughout. When so much in life feels uncertain, just being able to vibe to those records on repeat and find solace in the familiarity has a certain kind of magic to it.
But that’s the thing, isn’t it? Life isn’t all shimmering synths and chilled-out lap steel. Life is so often cruel, unpredictable and unfeeling. ILYSM is a case of art imitating life. With much of the album written and recorded in the shadow of a cancer diagnosis for frontman John Ross, the comforting flow of the band’s music has faced the same kind of upheaval that naturally reaches all aspects of your life after receiving such news. The core fabric of their sound is still here, much as one would try and cling to moments of peace and happiness at every opportunity, but as a whole the record has a far darker and more mercurial feel. Still an album where it’s hard to tell where one song ends and another begins, but not for the usual reasons. Where before everything flowed together, here each track flits between different movements and contrasting styles through the course of its runtime, the transitions within tracks often more stark than those between them. In a way, a reflection of how uncertain the road ahead must have seemed.
Poignant as they are, musically some of these rapid stylistic shifts, and dips into a broader sonic palette, do occasionally fail to stick the landing. The abrupt crash ending of ‘Hell Is Cold’ into the title track feels way too jarring, to the point where it took me several listens to realise there wasn’t a problem with my internet making the album skip. The subtle echoing RnB groove at the start of ‘Abducted At The Grief Retreat’, the chaotic droning grunge of ‘Sucking On The Birdshot’ and the folktronic closing track ‘ICLYM’ all end up feeling a bit too out of place also. However, in moving away from the album as an almost continuous piece, the individual tracks have a wealth more unique character to them, and for every minor misstep there is a corresponding moment where the band truly shines. ‘Simple Glyphs’ into ‘See You Better Now’ is one of the best one-two punches you will hear on any album in 2022. The former bringing squalling riffs, jaunty piano, punchy bass tones and a wonderfully bright and playful outro, while the latter brings their warm Americana sound back and better than ever, with a gorgeous soaring guitar solo to boot. Special mention also has to go to the emotional heart of the record, ‘Hold My Hand’. A tender, plaintive plea for comfort before going into surgery. Julien Baker was an absolutely inspired choice for a duet; her and John’s voices come together in such a bittersweet way, and there are few artists better able to find beauty in sorrow.
ILYSM is not the record I expected to find, and it took more time and attention to unpack than their last couple of releases, but all told it’s another triumph. Full of heart warming delights, heart-rending sadness, and affecting authenticity waiting to be discovered at every turn, Wild Pink once again find themselves quietly yet consistently rising up the totem pole to be one of the best bands to enter the spotlight in recent years.