In examining the lumbering post-punk of Baltimore band Wilderness, a number of possible threads of influence are revealed. Echo & the Bunnymen-like guitars swirl around drum patterns fit for the stoniest of stoner metals, while vocalist James Johnson’s guttural bark falls somewhere between Hot Water Music’s throaty call-and-response, a post-Misfits Glenn Danzig, and John Lydon’s lower-register wails. In fact, Wilderness could perhaps be most obviously linked to Public Image Ltd.`s dissonant meanderings, especially if you could transpose them down an octave or so. Or, if you’d prefer to reach for a more contemporary comparison, imagine if members of The Forms and Les Savy Fav formed a slowcore band.
Still not getting it? Well, it’s probably for the better, because Wilderness seem particularly fixated on being judged on their own terms. The promo sheet from Jagjaguwar lays out the band’s ideals in pretty clear terms: “Music can have its own influence or gravity, and the muddling by a shit cloud of cultural references and lazy signifiers often costs the world more than whatever value an artistic work brings to it.” Johnson remarks that “making a name” seems to be the principal goal of bands today, while Wilderness remains decidedly focused on crafting quality music regardless of recognition. These may be overstatements, since music doesn’t really exist without context and there are plenty of active artists dedicated to making great music, but nonetheless they’re worthy aspirations.
To some extent, Wilderness lives up to these goals on this third release. Conceived as a collaboration with visual artist Charles Long, (k)no(w)here is one coherent musical expression. Unlike their first two records, the songs here flow together seamlessly, feeding into the band’s towering sound. Although best experienced as a whole, the individual tracks are fairly monumental on their own. Most notable is Wilderness’ rhythm section which grounds the songs in prominent bass and dynamic drum work that ranges from thunderous, galloping toms to subdued cymbal-play. Guitars supply cascades of atmospheric riffs as Johnson’s repetitive, atonal vocals are used strategically and relatively sparingly.
And while their largely unconventional sound and disregard for typical song structure can be interesting and basically satisfying, not everything Wilderness throws at the wall sticks. The highs on (k)no(w)here don’t rise quite as high when compared to past releases and the melodies become a little difficult to differentiate, leaving the songs to bleed together in unflattering ways. Johnson’s vocal work, while powerful, leaves something to be desired on repeated listens, as does the lyricism. Maybe Charles Long’s visual component helps flush out some meaning, but it’s hard to imagine passages like “You and I in our benediction / strand strand the test of time / history story is on the rise” as anything but baffling.
Despite its shortcomings, (k)no(w)here is still distinctly the work of a band that’s trying their best to create something that stands strong on its own. Even if this album was only half as good it’d still be a worthy effort. Hopefully Wilderness can build upon their unique palette of sounds and evolve further in order to fully realize their conceptual potential.