Unconventional yet familiar, The Wilderness’ second album, Vessel States, combines quiet, contemplative low-key and even slightly psychedelic guitar-rock with vocal qualities that are noticeably different to the usual over-enthusiastic shouting that often passes for singing in alternative circles. Wilderness, hailing from Baltimore, Maryland, aren’t the most edgy or experimental group around at the moment, but they are talented composers and their music is perfect to zone out to, as during the strongest moments of the album they take their time to develop their music and allow the listener time to soak it up, rather than artificially driving their work to a concise, three-minute conclusion.
“The Blood Is On The Wall,” with its ethereal minor-key wafting guitar intro, and anguished yet subtle vocals, is both unreconstructed and bleak. The chord-changes during the guitar instrumental are perfectly done, imparting a sense of peaceful descent before the drums hasten the pace and the barely decipherable lyrics seem to become a supporting line of melody, with more sonic than thematic value. “Beautiful Alarms” has a tremendous sense of fatigue, but the catchiness of the riff and the drums offsets the foggy vocals well. It brings to mind My Bloody Valentine insofar as construction of soundscape is concerned, although the construction of the music is more angular; and the exploration and experimentation with a single melody is reminiscent of Explosions In The Sky or of British Sea Power’s more serene moments.
“Last” is a little irritating in places, because the singer sounds very upset but it’s not clear why, seeing as how the vocals are indecipherable. The style of singing is fine, welcome even, and while a little more enunciation would go down a treat to satisfy curiosity as to what the song about – if anything – this probably isn’t the point. However, towards the end of the track, the tone changes as the vocals end, the percussion beats its way through some accomplished guitar-licking and the music is allowed to speak for itself before the return of the by now grating vocals.
There’s an alteration of mood on “Gravity Bent Light,” with its eerie organ introduction serving to create a tense build-up to echoing, spaced-out vocal declamations – it could almost be David Bowie. The faintly sinister build-up of guitar and brushed cymbal promises a lot, but merely fades out into a long reverberation. Similarly, “Fever Pitch” features decent layering of guitars and lyrics, allowing the music to take to the fore and the listener to reflect during the quieter moments of the song, and there are some marvellous instances of inter-guitar Q&A, but the song only really reaches one level before petering out.
The final song, “Monumental,” with its literalism – “it’s over” – and now familiar repeated guitar-licks is something of a disappointment, perhaps because it feels underdeveloped compared to the rest of the album. Overall, it’s an interesting set of nine songs, but they are musical tableaux rather than vignettes, with little progression, and yet they seem to lack the requisite level of exploration, within the constraints the band have set themselves, to justify such an approach. It’s by no means bad, but one is left with the feeling that it could have been so much more, had the band chosen to temper their shoe-gazing tendencies with something a little stronger from time to time. The Wilderness demonstrate here that contrast is most noticeable when it’s absent.