La Dispute – Wildlife
Record Label: No Sleep
Release Date: October 4, 2011
"Did I listen to pop music because I'm miserable?
Or was I miserable because I listened to pop music?" - High Fidelity
The above is a line that has always stuck with me for some years since, and any person attached to a record or song or lyric knows what the line is referring to. Through all of our bitter subjectivity, when a particular album crawls under your skin and you find yourself coming back like a drug to shoot through your veins as an answer…well, that's the greatest connection as individuals we can make with the art form. I won't lie that a lot of my favorite records hit closest to a time in my life when I needed it. I won't sit here and tell you that a lot of those albums make me feel weary when I listen to them and attach their words and instrumental feeling to certain events and thoughts I constantly have circling in my head from days ago to years ago and so on.
La Dispute's 2008 release, Somewhere at the Bottom of the River Between Vega and Altair was a brash record about the trials and brain-wrecking thought process we all go through in at least one relationship (if not a few) in our lives. But with the album's closing "The Last Lost Continent," there's a glimmer of hope. It's an epic song (and I don't use that term loosely) that reminds us that no matter how hard life can get, we as humans have the ability to keep caring about each other and rise above all of our darkest moments. While much of Somewhere is built around the first person (excluding a few songs about two failing marriages connected to one incident), the band's latest release looks at events from a third person experience while finding meaning in the first. In a sense, Wildlife almost feels like it was written in the second person at times pinning the listener through each of the two main narratives. Vocalist Jordan Dreyer absolutely looses his mind across the hour long album. The intro ("a Departure") and the interludes ("a Letter" "a Poem" and "a Broken Jar") leave you shaking as he lets a lot of personal anguish just wash out against the builds of the rest of the band. The band seemed to have built Hear, Hear IV into the record with the aforementioned pieces, and they are among the most powerful tracks well placed throughout.
Bassist Adam Vass and drummer Bradley Vander Lugt keep rhythmic tension as guitarists Kevin Whittemore and Chad Sterenberg do their best on this album to weave each array of notes around the other's crashing chord progressions. While the songs build more like a meld of "post-" drives and builds of some hardcore acts rather than the fast paced, quick changing progressions we've seen from the band in the past - the stylistic change works best alongside Dreyer's lengthy storytelling this time around. Hearing "Why it Scares Me" last year was a good indication of territory the band would be moving towards and ended up pulling off with this album. While a general complaint about the record could be its length (only a few minutes longer than Somewhere), a few songs don't standout like the others. "Edit Your Hometown" is the anthem for every kid looking for a way out of the depravity of just living a normal life, and "The Most Beautiful Bitter Fruit" is a quick stride of keeping our hands to our sides in our darkest, tempest of moments. Both songs aren't failures, but compared to where the band push themselves on the rest of the record (even in every little small layer of clicks and chains to add depth) - the songs seem the weakest among the pack. Not filler in the least, but not as capturing overall as they show similar arrangements to that of their hardcore contemporaries.
The element that seems to have violently grabbed most listeners so far falls in the second half of the record. "King Park" and "Edward Benz, 27 Times" are two of the most powerful songs to come out in some time. They're not uncomfortable in the vein of "a miserable pop song," but they're stories of the worst headlines we never want to be a part of, or even wish on another for that matter. Dreyer puts himself in a front row seat, sharing every detail of the stories to further his understanding of fear, love, faith and death. The final two minutes of "King Park" makes all the hair on your body stand tall along with the crescendoing of instruments and Dreyer's frantic vocal imitation of the gunman's (possible) final words, "Can I still get into heaven if I kill myself? Can I ever be forgiven cuz I killed that kid? It was an accident I swear it wasn’t meant for him! And if I turn it on me, if I even it out, can I still get in or will they send me to hell?" It's the most terrifying moment on the album as you transcend into the scene itself through Dreyer's writing.
The closing two numbers tie the album together perfectly, and really shows that the tracking of Wildlife is key. As the album begins picking at the little things and everyday events we take for granted towards the beginning of the record, each interlude gets darker and darker and each story we're told follows that suit. "all our bruised bodies and the whole heart shrikes" shows Dreyer reflecting back on all the narratives and concluding a theme to Wildlife: We all go through suffering, some greater than others, but it's finding the meaning in it all - the love, the faith, family, friends - that is the comforting effect we constantly are scratching at and if you think you're the only one - you are not. On "You and I in Unison," Dreyer says, "No one should ever have to walk through the fire alone. No one should ever have to brave that storm. No, everybody needs someone or something." That "something" could be motivation from the pages of a book, the pleasure in a craft you excel at or enjoy or for people like myself - music.
Wildlife was gripping upon first listen, but the more I let it sink in and let the water of the words hold meaning in the pit of my stomach while being just as moved to the music - it's unsettling to wonder what state of mind someone can be in to write music like this. From Closer to Pink Moon to Catch For Us the Foxes to The Devil and God Are Raging Inside Me - the most tortured of creations, when built and presented in a way that makes you cringe doesn't happen often. Sure, there's tragedy in pop music, but harsh reality is generally found on albums that garner haunting returns instead of well fashioned hooks. As much as some try to fake that feeling these days, albums like Wildlife are red flags on hollowed albums of the same relationship-angst theme we've seen churned out monthly. La Dispute trumped even that approach with their last album. 2-0.
If Somewhere Between was their [A→B] Life, this is totally their Foxes. Huge step up, musically and structurally, even if they still seem to have a boner for the band in question. So do I, though, so it's all good with me.