Wild Pink‘s music is ambitious in its scope but performed at understated volumes. It’s concerned with the big questions, but those rarely step outside of vocalist and songwriter John Ross’ internal monologue. These contrasts are key to the New York band’s music, and yet they don’t cancel each other out—they’re complementary rather than contradictory, the subtleties serving to highlight the moments of triumph and vice versa. And they only get better at defining those extremes every time they emerge with a new set of songs.
Three years after the critical success of 2018’s Yolk in the Fur, the group—formerly Brooklyn and Queens residents, now relocated to decidedly less bustling upstate New York—have set new goals of musical largesse while holding fast to the hushed intimacy that defined their earnest and aching first two records. Their third album, A Billion Little Lights, is their prettiest and most lush album, the end product of Ross’ goal to make the biggest sounding record he could. And he did so with a dozen extra musicians to spare, building room-filling sounds with a team of contributors that could literally fill a room and spill out onto an extra stage or two.
The core of heartland rock and jangle pop of the band’s first two albums—frequently compared to the likes of Tom Petty, The War on Drugs and Death Cab for Cutie in equal measure—remains central to their songwriting, but it’s what gets layered on top that makes A Billion Little Lights stand out as the strongest of the band’s records to date. Each song seems to carry a glowing ambiance that makes even its starkest spaces feel full and rich, though the group finds plenty of creative ways to fill in the blanks. A bright burst of saxophone breaks through the chorus of “Pacific City.” Warm, glowing synthesizer drives the dreamy standout “Amalfi.” And opening track “The Wind Was Like a Train” is propelled by a beautifully weeping lap steel, eventually rising up into a glorious climax of strings. These songs still feel intimate, even sometimes insular, but Wild Pink has never sounded so grand.
Yet so much of the album still strongly concerns the internal self, whether it’s a more mundane, meditative state or an attempt to make peace with others. On the first single “The Shining But Tropical,” Ross narrates images depression and a planned suicide only to reach the chorus with a big heart and open arms, singing, “You want peace, you want love/You deserve that much.” The anthemic standout “Oversharers Anonymous” offers reassurance to even those that get under his skin (“You’re a fucking baby, but your pain is valid too“). And even though all these songs were written pre-pandemic, so much of the feelings and tableaus that Ross presents feel especially familiar in the past year, particularly “Family Friends”: “Everyday is Groundhog Day now/ Writing in the afternoon, Temple of Doom on mute/ Making hay while the sun shines.”
Wild Pink’s music has often concerned the thoughts of a young person growing into adulthood, and the changes of perspective that entails. A Billion Little Lights, in large part, feels like an endpoint of that journey. It’s an album of lowercase revelations, of better understanding oneself and finding that happiness just might be achievable after all. It feels like stepping outside and seeing the sunshine for the first time in months.
Label: Royal Mountain
Jeff Terich is the founder and editor of Treble. He's been writing about music for 20 years and has been published at American Songwriter, Bandcamp Daily, Reverb, Spin, Stereogum, uDiscoverMusic, VinylMePlease and some others that he's forgetting right now. He's still not tired of it.