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 » The Top 30 Albums of 2010 - Fashionably, fabulously late, our favorite music (and believe me, there was a LOT) of 2010, the year that some have called the best year for music ever. And only some of those fools work here. Plenty of usual suspects, lots of ties and a few surprises that I won't spoil, including our unexpected #1.
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 » Live: Surfer Blood/The Drums at Lincoln Hall, Chicago, IL - Remember when Weezer used to put together records that you could sing along to and rock out to? That's what Surfer Blood's show was like!
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Music Reviews

Screaming Females - Castle Talk
»Screaming Females
Castle Talk
Don Giovanni
Trent Reznor & Atticus Ross - The Social Network [Original Soundtrack]
»Trent Reznor & Atticus Ross
The Social Network [Original Soundtrack]
The Null Corporation
Deerhunter - Halcyon Digest
Halcyon Digest
No Age - Everything in Between
»No Age
Everything in Between
Sub Pop
Robyn - Body Talk Pt. 1/ Body Talk Pt. 2
Body Talk Pt. 1/ Body Talk Pt. 2
The Walkmen - Lisbon
»The Walkmen
Fat Possum
Jagjaguar Records

Rating: 9/10 ?

August 29, 2005
Listening to the first notes of Wilderness' debut album still sends shivers down my spine, even after binging on it for a week. Opener "Marginal Over" is an intense wash of spacey guitars, heavy cymbal crashes and, most noticeably, James Johnson's barbaric yawp. His singing has been compared to John Lydon and Yan from British Sea Power, but the most obvious influence has been overlooked: Tarzan. While Johnson flails his vocals about, cohorts Brian Gossman, Will Goode and Colin McCann keep things tight, driving their well-oiled rock machine into oblivion. This all amounts to an intense, yet approachable 5+ minutes of rock that has few peers in the year 2005.

The poppy hints that grace track one aren't crushed by the time "Arkless" begins, but the shining timbres of "Marginal Over" are replaced here by darker, more brooding tones you would expect from Fugazi. More and more, it's becoming clear that Wilderness are not just swinging from vines overhead or partying with the creatures of the jungle, they actually have something to say. What that is, I'm not exactly sure; Johnson's lyrics are based around criss-crossing repetitions ("O face the facts/O fact the face," "The hand, the fist/the hand over the fist" to name a couple). The more dialogic moments are no less strange: On "It's All The Same," Johnson bellows the band's simplistic manifesto: "As I have said before/And will say again/As you know we are the Wilderness band/and we are here to say/It's all the same." If you're cringing just reading that, rest assured that the song is one of the album's strongest, balancing shimmering melodies, pounding drums and Johnson's joie de vive. This song, like so many from the album, begs to be played on repeat.

As Wilderness hits its halfway point, however, the momentum takes a plunge. The first five ecstatic rock-outs will have you foaming at the mouth for more of the same, but Act II of the disc is markedly less fierce. "Fly Further To See" seems to take a lifetime to warm up, and when it reaches full stride it's still slower than previous tracks. The instrumentation changes little, and listeners are treated to pulsating post-rock, but the splash of pop is gone and you'd be hard-pressed to find a decent hook in any of the later tracks.

Though I'm still a bit disappointed by this shift, I can understand it; the earlier songs are almost danceable, and as a result it's easy to lose the lyrics in the swirling mélange, even when Johnson's voice is front-and-center. For the second half of Wilderness, the band cuts the sweets out of their diet to create a leaner, more desperate sound. As it turns out, these songs are about living in the consumer age and the anxiety that is created therein. "Post Plethoric Rhetoric" is filled with commuters and their cell phones, while "Say Can You See" is a criticism of political conformity - at least that's what I interpret from the lyrics, "From me to you/To them to they/Say what you believe to say." This type of blurry social commentary certainly beats the overbearing and all too obvious feel of dreck like American Idiot, and plays well into the band's feral sound.

The album's closing song, "Mirrored Palm," is the ugly ducking of the bunch, being the only atonal piano jam on the CD (and awkwardly placed, at that). Even with this demerit, Wilderness can hold its own against this year's heavy-hitters from Sleater-Kinney and The Hold Steady, and is slowly climbing up my year-end list with every listen.

Reviewed by Andy Brown
A regular contributor to LAS, Andy Brown lives in the frozen tundra of Minnesota, but doesn\'t think he has an accent.

See other reviews by Andy Brown



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