an we talk? I have to get something off my chest, and we’ve become so friendly over the years. I may have sold Wilderness short on their debut last year. Sure, the simplistic PiL handles in much of the neo-press were utter nonsense, but as the season turned fallow last October, the band’s debut seemed to click. I began to hear the largesse behind their pointillist angst. Wilderness was my withdrawal from season, a whore’s hording of criminal gains and misspent sun-days as winter began to simmer cold. In short, I came to love Wilderness.
A short ten months after their debut, Jagjaguwar now issues their follow-up, Vessel States. Perhaps it’s fitting for a band that worked so diligently on their first album that there might be material left-over, something the band could offer up on short notice. Sadly, Vessel States sounds like just this sort of misfired label attempt to capitalize on that shortest of dying breaths, the word-of-mouth. Though its songs are far more promising as a set, I can’t help but think of Warp’s slapdash issue of Maximo Park’s Missing Songs in this light. This may be far too soon, more reflex than action, for the band to properly capitalize on their start.
Missing, for example, is the pillow-box grandeur of “Marginal Over,” or the ascendant billow of “Fly Farther to See.” Rarely does the band reach the grainy absinthe heights of “Say You Can See”’s stop-start shimmer, or strain to see their feet through the sand like they did on the cleansing piano sonata from “Mirrored Palm.” Instead, we’re offered a talented band often without aspiration. “Emergency” sounds the alarum for anything but, sluggishly building on its contemplative guitar line and James Johnson’s chest-groans. Sadly, it fails to ever build into the sort of Breakfast Club anthem it’s designed to be. “Last” is likewise an attempt to continue the marathon after you’ve spent your last electrolyte, while “Towered” falls well short of achieving the crystalline ambience of the band’s prior instrumentals.
Still, as you do your anhedonic slide into Vessel States, Wilderness offers a few reminders of how stunning they can be when they get off the marble faun. “Fever Pitch” grumbles out Johnson’s insensate pleas atop a guard-wire guitar line, a snark against our buyer-be-ne’erware tendencies: “O do say / O do sell / O consumer / O do tell.” Meanwhile, closer “Monumental” could easily have made the grade for Wilderness. The band traces the prick of its own spilled sense amongst the wax and dank brickwork of those basement folk; they are clear and brusque and all too alight in their own shadow for the first time on Vessel States. But it cuts short, almost as though the song was clipped in the studio for lack of rented time. In other words, it’s a facile metaphor for what this record does for what might be a great band. I can’t really guarantee Vessel States won’t begin to mold in me, but I know it ain’t got the moisture to moss.