This sort of whimsical pop rock is often rejected by the cool hunters and tastemakers, as nobody wants to back an average horse. Just look at how They Might Be Giants racked up commercial success before the more edgy genre of grunge blew them back into a quieter existence. Bands such as Fountains Of Wayne or Roachford once had big hits, but they were eventually run over; an occupational hazard if you stand yourself in the middle of the road. Mike & The Mechanics and Hothouse Flowers gained support from some giant labels and enjoyed chart recognition, but they couldn’t be any less alternative if they tried. The mid and late 1980s had a seemingly endless stream of these power popsters, but they didn’t so much as distract the hipster crowds. Instead they set about writing massive hits and fattening up the middle ground. Today’s recommendation is seen to be aiming for a similar edgeless existence, but there’s no denying how impossibly adorable they are.
Wildlife Control are a duo of brothers, Neil and Sumul Shah, from Brooklyn. You can tell they’re from Brooklyn, not because they look like a pair of Williamsburg hipsters, but because they wear tops in their videos that state “Brooklyn” on the front, and they admirably name their songs things like, um, Brooklyn. In fact that same song launches their 11-track debut album, which they’re self-releasing today. Were this 1986 they wouldn’t be self-releasing, as we imagine Polydor would be throwing their weight behind this, but alas it is 2012 and so this only serves to show us how these days many labels are only attracted to music because it has been focused through a prism of cool. A self-release it is then. That’s not to say it’s not any good. Far from it. It’s worth remembering that there’s a definite market for this, albeit made up of mums and teens, but like all those 80s bands they write music that transcends cool, transcends hipsters and because it doesn’t feel confined to 2012 it should still stand up in ten or twenty years.
We can’t help but feel like the album needs a little bit more of the wild life and less control (see what we did there?) to steer it slightly further away from the safe zones that it occupies, but there’s still bags of charm and sophistication on offer here, and their sense of pop hooks and smart ideas are exceptional. You may know when the chord changes are coming and you may be able to predict the next eight bars, but some of the world’s best bands made strong careers from doing exactly that. Take the single which first introduced most folks to the duo, Analog Or Digital, and you get a racing guitar-led pop tune that is running on parallel tracks from the outset, with no deviations, but a stack of coal-fired energy. The video understandably drew comparisons with OK GO, with it’s outrageous idea, filmed in stop-motion as they performed upon a beach during an entire 24 hours, even stopping for a picnic and to light a fire during the middle eight! Quite what the main line “it doesn’t matter if she’s analog or digital” actually means is unsure, but when did clarity get in the way of a good song – it’s not like Noel ever explained what a Wonderwall was either.
Their amalgamation of several genres, from jazz, to rock, to pop, all of which are experienced on the album, regularly creates confusion. It’s hard to pin their sound down to one pigeon hole, but the same can be said of the bands they’re channelling. Where would you shelve Hue & Cry or OK GO? We have no idea, but these guys can probably find a pretty snug fit on the same shelf. If you take the track, Disguise, you get that exact fusion of pop and rock, before it strips down to the purest jazz after two minutes. In this instance the fizz they introduce gives it a contemporary feel, much in the same way Brooklyn and their first single does, but the middle of the album is taken down tempo, to the point where it almost loses momentum entirely. Thankfully the slow bits are decent, with the track Melody being as humble and emotional as any contemporary ballad, as they sing “melody brings the songs alive, give me a chance to give you harmony“, in a beautiful lament, as swirling sounds and Joshua Tree guitaring fold around in the background. Lose sings about subjects such as ‘love ruling the world’, which takes things so middle of the road that it’s in danger of slamming into the central reservation, but they re-inject the fizz for the remaining three tracks, giving the album more of a rounded feel.
The truth is, it’s easy to slate timeless 80s hits, such as Labour Of Love or The Living Years, if you have your hipster hat on, but if you relax and consider them as the well-structured pop hits that they undoubtedly are then you will find lots to hum along to. Wildlife Control channel that exact same fusion pop but they’ve just been born in the wrong year. If they work on their fizz and the elements of their songs that stir most excitement then they have more chance of finding a more credible shelf, perhaps alongside Deacon Blue or The Waterboys. Music doesn’t always need to be razor sharp, as there is definitely a place for rounded edges, so we applaud them for writing an album this light and crisp. If you want an album that warms you in waves, excites you in bursts and gently massages your heart in loving laments then you will locate lots to enjoy on this album. It won’t change the world, they may never be signed, but some albums are made to just glide along on their own momentum. (MB)
WILDLIFE CONTROL – BROOKLYN
WILDLIFE CONTROL – MELODY