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coverpic flag US - Maryland - Full Moon 109 - 08/19/05

Wilderness
Wilderness
Jagjaguwar

Despite the finite fluidity inside the skull, the human mind is cavernous and resonant. Terrifyingly so. If there's one fallacy of modern thought it's that you can think yourself out of emotional fallout. Not so - if anything, it's the power of the human mind that creates these states of freefall terror.

Baltimore band Wilderness understand this and express it musically. This is the glorious sound of waking up and realising that the white light and chaos of the world is beautiful as well as terrifying. From moment to moment it's a razor-thin line between exaltation and desperation.

The music on this fantastic album is basic, but pristine and perfect. Much like The Earth Is Not A Cold Dead Place by Explosions in the Sky, Wilderness sounds like it was played live, with all the instruments sounding pretty much the same all the way through: enormous tom-tom patterns; icy guitar with heavy reverb and delay; growling, plunging basslines; and James Johnson's eerie, monotonous moan.

I imagine Johnson's voice will be a polarising element. I like it, and it holds out well over the course of forty-five minutes. He's clearly aware that his idiosyncratic style - akin to John Lydon but less shrill - is limited: vocal lines are sparse and repetitive, with the words incanted over and over, the sounds left to hang in the air, ambiguous with foreboding. Intermittently a word or phrase will shine amid the gloom and there'll be a moment of recognition before sense is lost again. It's disorientating and delicious to hear him teetering on the brink of comprehension.

Aside from the solo piano finale "Mirrored Palm", the bulk of the album is pretty homogeneous, but when you've perfected a sound as affecting as this there's no reason to stray far from the blueprint. Each time I listen through a new song rises to the surface and reveals its own magic. Opener "Marginal Over" is perhaps the most accessible and exultant song here with an almost poppy guitar line. "Post Plethoric Rhetoric" is a monumental centrepiece with two huge sections. Current favourite "End of Freedom" is a heartbreaking standout with a guitar line to die for.

There's a tremendous power to this whole record that's difficult to adequately express. Beautifully played, carefully paced and undeniably moving, this is resonant, essential music that demands to be heard.

Copyright © 2005 Tim Clarke e-mail address

You may also want to check out our Wilderness articles/reviews: (K)no(w)here, Vessel States.

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