Following a debut steeped in generational aimlessness, the Brooklyn band’s second album thrives on a combination of rock extroversion and frontman John Ross’ hard-won and tenuous new optimism.
By the end of 2017, Wild Pink’s self-titled debut was being celebrated as one of the year’s overlooked gems. This designation would’ve had the ring of faint praise if the band’s music hadn’t sounded like it was made to be stumbled upon. John Ross sang fully formed, footnoted sentences at a conversational volume. The hooks never gave you a hard sell—they were just phrases that rattled around on repeat, lodging themselves in your short-term memory. Wild Pink could kick up enough distortion to get loud, occasionally even bordering on rude, but Ross’ pose remained the same, staring off into the distance amid the ambient clatter of New York City. Listening to him sing felt like eavesdropping on someone muttering something to himself that he should’ve said an hour ago.
It’s an approach that puts a lot of faith in the listener, and the album yielded a substantial return on whatever that audience invested. But Wild Pink ultimately came across like a conversation Ross preferred to keep to himself. Yolk in the Fur can’t wait to share it.
Lead single “Lake Erie” is at once the most polished and pyrotechnic Wild Pink song to date—and it’s where Ross sounds most beholden to his professed influences. As he tells it, those heroes are Tom Petty and Jackson Browne, but in 2018, indie-rock fans are sure to think of the War on Drugs first. This connection is the first real narrative hook that's emerged for a band that's been tough to classify; in the past, Wild Pink were most often compared to pre-“O.C.” Death Cab, which is to say that they don’t exactly share the punk aesthetics of their more celebrated Tiny Engines labelmates like the Hotelier. And while they live in Brooklyn, they’re not really of it; they didn’t come up in any particular local scene.
For better or worse, the band’s crowd-pleasing new combination of brassy acoustics, bleary pedal steel, and rigid beats on “Lake Erie” means that the heartland synth rock tag has already stuck, even if it barely applies to the rest of Yolk. Aside from the slow-motion windmill strums of the title track, few elements of the release scan as “classic rock.” Instead, Ross’ nimble acoustic fingerpicking evokes John Fahey, and his searching solos harken back to the indie anti-guitar heroism that typified Wild Pink’s earlier work. The biggest riff on the album comes from a vintage synth on “There Is a Ledger” that strobes and squawks like a toy UFO.
Wild Pink also avoid the grand gestures that make the War on Drugs, Kurt Vile, and Amen Dunes among the few guitar-centered acts that have won over the Vibe Generation. Damon McMahon and Adam Granduciel can transmute “regular dude” into a kind of aura, a brand that calls back to performers like Bruce Springsteen and John Mellencamp—rock stars who seemed down-to-earth compared with Bret Michaels and David Lee Roth, with voices as gritty as distressed denim and dried cornhusks to distract from the wealthy lives they led. Ross, on the other hand, never sounds like anything but an actual regular dude, strolling through the suburbs, running into acquaintances, and tapping mundane thoughts into his cell phone as he walks.
That stream of consciousness doesn’t include as many wisecracks on Yolk as it did on Wild Pink. But nods to mobster bars, “boomers with hepatitis,” Kim Carnes, and “Edelweiss”provide hyper-specific grounding for vague, hopeful mantras: “Love is better than anything else”; “You have a heart like a star.” The band’s debut was written when Ross was, as he put it, “super pessimistic for a lot of good reasons.” By the time it was released, in February 2017, Wild Pink spoke to the previous year’s sense of generational aimlessness rather than the culturally inflamed present. But on Yolk’s florid Cocteau Twins homage “Jewels Drossed in the Runoff,” Ross sings, “There’s nothing worse than pretending that you don’t actually care”—and the album takes that advice to heart, connecting Wild Pink’s “active rock” extroversion with their frontman’s hard-won and tenuous new optimism.
On opening track “Burger Hill,” Ross draws out the last word of the lyric “I woke up too fast from a dream” long enough to capture the liminal, confused state the song’s harp-like guitar figures suggest, of feeling a connection with the smoke and the breeze and everything else that will soon fade out of existence. Mark Kozelek fans who wish he’d start writing songs again must be dreaming of something like this, a track whose starlit slowcore is a balm for the hopelessly melancholy, an idyllic “prenatal slow globe” and a “world untouched and set free/The way it was meant to be.”
This is a much different world from the one Ross sees on “Lake Erie,” in which he watches a cleanup crew erase a roadside disaster. It isn’t a grand, metaphorical gambit like Springsteen’s “Wreck on the Highway,” where life hangs in the balance. An IRL crisis soon gives way to a URL one (“Meanwhile people on Tumblr unpack their neuroses/And all you ever wanted was the one you love the most not to suddenly leave”), and the song reveals its true intent: It’s not a rebranding of Wild Pink, but a rejoinder to the apocalyptic discourse that drives our everyday existence—we all know how this is going to end, so why not find freedom in the uncertainty? Ross sings “I hope we find peace” eight times at the end of “There Is a Ledger,” before a line that will reappear on “All Some Frenchman’s Joke” to become Yolk in the Fur’s final lyric: “I don’t know what happens next.” Repeated this way, the expression of uncertainty becomes a mantra of acceptance that spans the length of the album.
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