Some brilliant records can’t be described, and explaining to another person why you feel an important connection with it, why it means something significant to you, and how it makes you feel, can be ineffably troubling. When there’s a deep personal connection, it’s near enough impossible to have another person fully understand why an album means something to you. Terrible records, on the other hand, are usually much easier to write about, as it’s elementary to climb upon a high horse and pipe up about why you think everyone will/should hate this particular collection of songs. A quick-witted, great insult is much simpler to pen than a beautiful, honest, and worthy compliment.
But then there are records that leave you with little to talk about, and The Wilderness is one of those records. It’d be nice for everyone involved if the debut album from Cemeteries (aka Kyle J. Reigle) was so wonderful that it put me in a daze, leaving me unable to find any suitable words or sentences, but unfortunately it does not. The Wilderness isn’t bad in the sense that it makes me want to sever the link between my headphones and my iPod, but it’s a boring and languid affair that fails to keep me transfixed for an extended period of time.
The Wilderness doesn’t have much of a back story, but it does help in the terms of the bigger picture. Recorded over six months in a spare room overlooking the separate forests of Buffalo’s draining industrial hum, Reigle looked to the distance and dreamt of an escape, which makes for a charming ode that can be easily translated and turned into something most of us can probably relate to. If it’s liberation you want from The Wilderness, though, then you won’t really find it; the album is one that sounds like it’s stuck in the same small, grey confines throughout. And it’s a little deceiving, too, as it begins in a manner that makes you think you’re heading on a journey. Opening track “Young Blood” has Reigle singing about a feeling of paranoia as a result of his confinement: “Can we escape? / Cause it feels like someone’s listening,” he sings in a reverberating low voice, like he’s addressing an imaginary friend but also trying to reach out to the listener. Come the bright opening guitar ripples on the following title track, it sounds like he might well have made a run for it. It’s kind of like Reigle’s own personal Where The Wild Things Are soundtrack.
What soon becomes clear, however, is that we’ve not gone anywhere. As “The Wilderness” decelerates during its final minute and trails into “What Did You See?” and “Summer Smoke,” it sounds like we’re back in the confines of Reigle’s spare room, waking from a daydream and staring at grey concrete walls. When the album slows down it begins to sway about within itself, which is mostly a mixture of ’80s-tinged gothic bedroom pop. There are a couple of pleasant moments: the sleepy, airy “Summer Smoke”; the downtrodden but likeable bass chug of “Leland”; and “A Real Gust Of Wind,” where it would appear that Reigle is literally and figuratively trying to blow away the cobwebs with optimistic streaks of daylight over his overcast style. But this is also one of the few ways The Wilderness sounds good: in small, measured doses. The opening pair of tracks work together because they feel like they are carrying you somewhere and “Summer Smoke” is effective on its own, especially when it has an appropriately autumnal video to go with it.
Thus, The Wilderness isn’t really a sum of its parts in that songs might sound okay, if not good on their own, but taken altogether it makes for an album that fails to make it off the ground. As a whole, listening feels like the equivalent of a wallowing in a self-inflicted crestfallen mood. And that might not have been as bad if The Wilderness was easier to dissect and not an album that is constructed as whole, with tracks that casually seep into one another.
But part of the reason my fondness of the album never really manifested could simply be a matter of location. I started off and continued to listen to the album while walking to work, and no matter whether it was dark, bright, gloomy, or beautifully frosty, it simply felt like the wrong soundtrack; my attention would wane quickly. When brought inside, however, it sounds better–but not majorly so. It’s still grey and plodding for the most part, but perhaps simply because I too am surrounded by four walls with views of greenery and city life; it feels like it’s playing to a better audience, even if that audience is just the walls themselves. If Reigle’s walls could speak, they might not have much more to say other than one time a young, modest-looking male came in and recorded an album about wanting to escape without ever actually doing so; not every house lived in has excitement in it, and similarly, not every record made is particularly interesting.
Plugging away since 1999, The National finally hit mainstream success with the release of their 2010 album High Violet. Of course, this entailed their first world tour, but in the new documentary Mistaken For Strangers, it’s only the backdrop for the relationship between lead singer Matt Berninger and his younger brother Tom, who had no idea that these short videos he was shooting would turn into a public document of their troubled, if still loving brotherhood.
We talk with Israeli rockers Vaadat Charigim about some of their favorite records.
We talk with Yvonne Ambree and Jesse Barnes of Take Berlin about some of the records which influenced the recording of their debut EP, Lionize.
Latest posts from The Film Stage