In our recent review of Craig Finn’s We All Want the Same Things, we touched briefly on the current trend of viewing all art in light of the present political situation, hinting that such a process is ultimately reductive and detrimental to whatever subversive power is actually present. For the white middle class at least, independent protest music has become a commodity, something to listen to when painting your witty march sign and laughing at late night chat show hosts. It’s not bad, per se, but it’s not an answer either. Temporary relief but not a cure. Perhaps, in our globalised, digital world, it’s no longer effective to narrow every ill and dissatisfaction to a single source. Perhaps we need to think bigger, wider, forgo polemic slogans in favour of sprawling collages that can at least try to map the situation and go some way to explore how we feel.
Which isn’t to say that the individual pieces can’t be simple and personal, rather that they resist the temptation to hone in on one area at the expense of everything else, and thus fail to address the wider system with all of its roots and ramifications. Wild Pink, the debut full-length from the New York band of the same name, feels like an album operating according to such an awareness. Led by songwriter John Ross, the band have pieced together a varied, discursive record on which an almost schizophrenic shifting occurs within even individual songs. But rather than coming off hyperactive or overly complex, Wild Pink feels natural and grounded in reality—realism for the twenty-first century.
Opening track ‘How Do You Know If God Takes You Back?’ sets this out clearly, an intimate song that feels like a vague statement that resonate deeply. “I used to feel guilt all of the time,” Ross sings, “now I just feel guilt about not feeling guilty enough.” This segues directly into ‘Great Apes,’ a far livelier indie rock number which is nonetheless again concerned with deep indistinct issues. It’s book-ended with searching questions and statements that worm their way into the concerns of the record.
“Do you do what you believe in?
And believe in in what you do?
You don’t think you do less now
But what you do used to mean much more to you”
“You hear about the war,” Ross sings on ‘Broke On’, “and know its not yours,” and while the sentence is cryptic enough to mean a thousand things, it captures a certain sense of removal that’s common to young people in contemporary times. Wild Pink‘s society is one where where identity is flimsy and faint, fundamentally lacking in its ability to bind a life and make it meaningful. Here, the old patriotism has eroded beyond use, leaving nothing but a sort of nebulous discomfort with the state of things that’s difficult to address.
And this isn’t due to Trump—if only it were that simple. It’s to do with consumerism, and mass media, and the geopolitical situation. It’s to do with Western history and foreign policy and plain old psychology, and possibly irony and sincerity and something pushing into eschatology too. Basically, its how we view ourselves and others, and what this means for being ‘American’ in day-to-day existence. “Daily ideas about what it means to have American dreams,” Ross sings on ‘I Used to be Small’, though you get the impression he never finds an answer. “Yes I am embarrassed to be here / I wonder if the next mass shooting will be here?”
‘Battle of Bedford Falls’ feels like a railing against the lack of identity and control, a plea for an autonomous, meaningful experience upon the Western conveyor belt life. “I just wanted to go down / Go down in my own ship,” Ross sings from a Groundhog Day nightmare of waking early and working late, where “good guys with guns” perform hard labour in caps and gowns. From this, ‘Wizard of Loneliness’ plays like an elaborate reassurance, an attempt to centre someone or perhaps everyone, to anchor us to the present and stop us spinning out of control on the hamster wheel. This flip flop between confusion and anger, and the desire or need to comfort others and thus transcend life’s banalities forms the backbone of all these songs. Be it the slow burn emotion of ‘Albert Ross’, the hypnotic, Wintersleep-esque energy of ‘Nothing to Show’, or the flat, wistful ‘Wanting Things Makes You Shittier’.
Taking its title from Bush Jnr.’s summation of terrorism, closer ‘They Hate Our Freedom’ is like the product of everything that has come previously, every irony and incongruity adding up to a suffocating anxiety, plus an unrelenting kindness or humanity which perseveres despite the discombobulation. Indeed, across the entirety of Wild Pink, Ross feels like a narrator dropped into an ongoing narrative, not fully aware of the beginning or end, or even any coherent context, yet haunted by profound sensations of sadness, fear and guilt—an unshakeable, existential dread that suggests we’re going to pay for how this story is panning out. Wild Pink haven’t come to us amidst this chaos with magic cures or quick-fix solutions, but they’ve come to us nonetheless. Right now, that’s probably the most valuable and noble thing any of us can do.