Wild Pink Are Still One of Indie Rock's Most Underrated Bands on the Swooning 'ILYSM'

BY Adam FeibelPublished Oct 11, 2022

The story of Wild Pink so far is that of a perpetually underrated indie-rock band, critically celebrated while flying under the radar of people who are quick to canonize groups like the War on Drugs, Death Cab for Cutie and Band of Horses. That was true when they made their self-titled debut in 2017, and it only became truer with 2018's Yolk in the Fur and last year's A Billion Little Lights. If you ask your quiet, introverted coworker who's a self-professed music nerd to name a band that not enough people know about, there's a decent chance you'll spend the next several minutes nodding along to an impassioned, fast-talking monologue about Wild Pink. 

Here's the short version: They're a band from Brooklyn that sounds like they're from middle America, granting them both urban hipster credibility and salt-of-the-earth rural folksiness. They have a sunny, sparkling sound that channels the heartland rock of Tom Petty and the cinematic atmospheres of Explosions in the Sky. Bandleader John Ross sings in a soothing coo that may very well act as an effective ASMR trigger. They're a gearhead guitarist's wet dream, serving up a Pinterest board's worth of big, reverby tones to dial into a pedal board.

Wild Pink's fourth album ILYSM doubles down on their constantly uplifting sound by responding to life-altering circumstances with a similarly bright-eyed attitude. As Ross was starting to work on the record, he was diagnosed with cancer: "Everything took on new meaning," he said. The result is an album that reflects the love and support he felt from the people close to him and a feeling of appreciation just for being alive. Even more than Wild Pink's previous recordings, ILYSM is full of warm serenity. Ross once described the band's debut as "super pessimistic" — five years later, ILYSM is the opposite. In an age of irony, it's a refreshing burst of sincerity.

If their sincerity loses them any cool points, their list of collaborators more than makes up for it: ILYSM features contributions from Dinosaur Jr.'s J Mascis, the Antlers' Peter Silberman, Yasmin Williams, Ryley Walker and Julien Baker. It would be understandable for someone in Ross's position to have retreated into himself and created solitary, self-reflective art for his own sake, but he instead made Wild Pink's most collaborative effort yet — a record primarily about Ross expressing gratitude for the people around him. And unlike the sass and wisecracks sprinkled in their first few albums, ILYSM is swooningly poetic. 

Beyond the album's title, the words "I love you" are scattered all over. On the titular "ILYSM," they're exuberantly shouted out like a football chant over a thumping, "Heart of Glass"-esque beat before the band breaks into an instrumental epic that could've been on Friday Night Lights, making the whole thing sound like a pep rally for devoted husbands. Those three words are also sung by Julien Baker, a fellow heart-on-sleever whose voice shines beautifully on the exceptionally pleasant and peaceful "Hold My Hand." They come up again at the end of "Abducted at the Grief Retreat," one of the record's more unique offerings that has a hint of Orville Peck to it thanks to its bluesy guitars, country-rock rhythm and down-pitched vocals. Finally, they crop up amid the gauzy synths, lo-fi beat and washed-out atmosphere of "ICLYM."

Throughout the album, Ross keeps things determinedly bright, sunny and optimistic. That's especially true in the spunky "See You Better Now," a folksy bop that sounds like an updated John Mellencamp with a reliably ripping solo by Mascis. The same can be said of the resplendent "The Grass Widow in the Glass Window," featuring the mesmerizing fretwork of Yasmin Williams, plus the heavenly sounding "Cahooting the Multiverse," the twangy, jaunty "Simple Glyphs," and the quiet thrum of "Hell is Cold." Ross is trying out a lot of different things here, but he remains consistent in putting out Good Vibes Only. 

"St. Beater Camry" and "War on Terror" are low-key Americana ballads that strip away most of the Wild Pinkiness for a simplicity more akin to Waxahatchee. On the other end, "Sucking on the Birdshot" explodes with guitars so massive that it sounds like My Bloody Valentine tiptoeing toward doom metal. Regardless, Wild Pink's sound is hazy, dreamlike and meditative. It's a testament to Ross's creative vision and distinctively honed sound that he can mix up the Wild Pink formula and still meet the listener in exactly the same spot. Add in Ross's sanguinity and newly heightened sense of profundity, and you've got a highly immersive record. ILYSM isn't meant to find you in the right headspace for it — it's meant to create that headspace. 

Still, Wild Pink may remain one of the most underrated bands in indie rock, and part of that could be their own doing. ILYSM is so packed with fascinating sounds and interesting ideas that it can also feel pretty bloated. With songs regularly stretching past the five-minute mark (often needlessly so), the record tends to drag about two-thirds of the way through its 60-minute runtime. A bit more efficiency and dynamics could do wonders. Here, Wild Pink's song structures, instrumentation, arrangements and sound design are their most inspired yet, and Ross's steady, calming presence is almost like a spiritual guide. Altogether, ILYSM is reliably enjoyable but just shy of transcendent.
(Royal Mountain Records)

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