Album Review: Wild Pink – A Billion Little Lights

[Royal Mountain; 2021]

Navigating a blend of progressive folk, post-emo, and neo-heartland rock, Wild Pink refine the templates of 2018’s Yolk in the Fur on their third album, A Billion Little Lights. Brimful of elegant melodies and John Ross’s euphonic vocals, the album’s 10 tracks also feature riveting instrumental undergirds – alternately minimal and lush, succinct and sprawling, earthy and psychedelic.

The album launches with “The Wind Was Like a Train”, dronish swells reminiscent of No Line on the Horizon-era U2 set alongside surreal atmospherics and trancey rhythms that bring to mind The War on Drugs. “The Shining but Tropical” follows, opening with an opulent riff on Springsteen’s “Born to Run” refrain, Ross’s voice emerging from waves of shimmering guitars, T.C. Brownell’s bass, and Dan Keegan’s drums. While Ross rarely attempts vocal leaps or gymnastics, he consistently demonstrates an attunement to subtly effective melodic pivots, segues, and shifts.

“I can feel you with me / when I feel everything,” he sings on “Amalfi”, embracing a Whitman-esque pantheism without devolving into maudlin New Age propaganda. Textural instrumentation complements the theme of expansiveness, individual soundings compressed and blended to yield a transcendent gestalt. Additionally, the album’s sublimely integrated sound invokes a meditative or supra-egoic state, facilitating a sort of ecstatic emptying. In this way, Wild Pink, much like emo progenitors Death Cab for Cutie and folksy big brother Fleet Foxes, are indebted – directly or indirectly, consciously or osmotically – to the ambient genre at large, composers such as Brian Eno, William Basinski, and Aphex Twin, among others.

A Billion Little Lights launches into its second half with “You Can Have It Back”, the most pop-oriented, ditty-ish, and conventionally catchy song of Wild Pink’s oeuvre, bringing to mind Tom Petty’s unparalleled pop sensibilities. “Track Mud” may remind some listeners of recent Bon Iver, this piece being the most akin to the less layered stylistics of Wild Pink’s full-length debut. “Just come home now / the rain will wash away the stains,” Ross offers, embracing a quasi-confessional vulnerability while maintaining his poise as the proverbial observer.

“Swat the smoke from your face / save the sermon for another day,” Ross sings on “Die Outside”, then adding: “Just off the beaten path / in a desolate place / in a peaceful sleep / beneath a mountain face / … mix in with the dirt / wash out in the rain.” Here, “dying outside” operates as a metaphor for shrugging off worldly concerns and perennial suffering, death being no less than a homecoming, a soulful reconnection with nature and/or the Spirit of the Universe.

Wild Pink’s third full length sees them at their most fluent, achieving a compositional and performative apex. It’ll be interesting to see how the band pivots from this point, whether Ross, Brownell, and Keegan further mine the successful templates of A Billion Little Lights, risking repetition, or discover ways to reinvent themselves and expand their repertoire. For now, and for a while, we can revel in their latest – one of 2021’s early triumphs.