Tuesday, September 30, 2008
Wilderness - (k)no(w)here
Andrew at Skyscraper asked me to interview Wilderness for one of my first features there. I was pretty intent on not fucking it up, but wasn't really helped by the three pages of responses, all typed in lower case mind you, that I received back from singer James Johnson. The band is nothing if not enigmatic, playing together for half a decade before recording anything for release and spending equal time trying to foster an arts community in Charm City. Wading through the text, the Lungfish comparisons began to seem more and more appropriate. Wilderness is a band that sees things in a particularly skewed mindset. I managed to carve a pretty good piece of the whole thing, if I do say do myself. A couple of months later they were playing a rare live date in town, so I called in a marker at Jagjaguwar and was pretty excited to finally see them.
It took quite a bit of negotiation to get me into their show at Bowery, considerably more than I normally would have to go through for a band of their stature. They were opening for some band called Explosions In The Sky and it didn't really seem like such a big deal. I saw Wilderness play an amazing set, highlighted by James Johnson robot dancing through the duration. I was intrigued, as was the woman to my left who was two kinds of hot but sadly five times of crazy. There was a look in her eye I've rarely seen this side of my bedroom; a look that did not bode well for James having a quiet evening after the show. They were (and are) very P/i/L, most obviously in Johnson's vocals, but very much also in the the clean guitar and dubby bass. Wilderness do the quiet/loud thing as well as Codeine did in their prime. I left even more of a fan, three songs into the decidedly unexciting Explosions set. I later came to find out the level of adulation our friends from Texas evoke, but even armed with that knowledge and a cursory perusal of their back catalogue, I'm pretty underwhelmed by EITS. So sue me.
Navigating the Wilderness website is as daunting as trying to understand the song lyrics. Johnson has strong ties to the Baltimore arts scene, co-owning local Bonsai Artransport and showing at Maryland Art Place, among other spaces. He's also responsible for the bizarre art pastiche that is the Wilderness web pages and album art. I'm not in anyway shape or form able to describe it, hell-- I'm not even sure if I like it, but check it out here and get back to me. The band's most recent release is a collaboration with artist Charles Long that was actually performed as part of this year's Whitney Biennial. Initially conceived as a single piece, the composition has been subdivided into eight parts for easier consumption and entitled (k)no(w)here for it's release on Jagjaguwar.
Dropping the laser, it seems like nothing much has changed for the band sonically. There is an infectious swagger to the songs that keeps you hooked even when the vocals get grating. Johnson is a well-known dub and dancehall aficionado and that sensibility informs much of their music. It's relentlessly rhythmic and ever-morphing as it wends its way towards its end. There is some break from convention in that Johnson shares vocals with guitarist Colin McCann, himself a JagJaguwar artist with his THE LORD DOG BIRD project. It doesn't change things radically, but adds another interesting dimension to the bands ever-morphing sound. I'd pick it up if I were you. (k)no(w)here comes out November 4th, buy it here and thank me later.