I only buy a book for the way it looks, then I put it on the shelf again. – Belle and Sebastian
At times I am drawn to things for completely superficial reasons. Perhaps the particular quirkiness of a name (e.g. The Pains of Being Pure at Heart) or a phrase (e.g., Everyone Who Pretended to like Me is Gone), or maybe the way something looks. I’ve never actually bought a book or album, in this case, because of its looks or aesthetics but sometimes these aesthetics so perfectly capture the content within that it isn’t out of the realm of reason to inquire into what lies beneath.
So when I saw this album cover (see below) I was instantly intrigued.
A black and white vintage photo of ladies from a by-gone era in long skirts bowling. A secret memento from one’s past that lies in a scrapbook or box of photos. The image wasn’t chose by happenstance. It was purposeful to evoke a feeling and a mood. I decided to do some digging around and listening. What I discovered was a pleasant surprise.
First, the group, North Highlands, currently resides in Brooklyn but like so many musical inhabitants of the borough they are from sundry parts including the West Coast and parts Midwest. Second, the album was recently pressed/released by a new Chicago label BLVD records, which also is releasing records by folks that work in the record store I frequent with (great) regularity. Third, Wild One is a beautiful and engrossing listen and feels like a perfect record for winter. When I listened more closely to the lyrics, I noticed on the opening track that Brenda Malvini (the lead singer) remarks that “when it gets warm, I’ll be better to you.” I chuckled to myself wondering, did I hear that subconsciously and then imprint that on to the record? It is quite possible. But, a better explanation is that the songs on Wild One tend to be more reserved and deliberate in tempo, calling to mind those days when we tend to, as the narrator in “Bruce”, get into our heads, stay in our homes, and long for our beds, a.k.a, Winter.
(To be totally honest, although raised in the Tropics, I really like winter. The reality that people venture out less means that those of us undeterred by the snow and cold have the city to ourselves. I’ve never been big on staying home or lounging around but I conceptually get the appeal.)
Like the cover art, capturing a fleeting snapshot of past joy, the songs on this record have the feel of longing, reminiscing, wondering, and planning. In this way it reminds me of Death Cab for Cutie’s Photo Album which is rooted in the sort of liminal space between adolescent nostalgia and young adult longing for the next thing. Maybe that is why it recalls winter, the time of year when we are eager for warmer days to come and recall the triumphs and travails of the year before.
Who knows? What I do know is that I’ve really enjoyed discovering North Highlands’ gem of a record, especially the infectious chorus of “Benefits” (it starts wistful but wait till you hit the chorus, the pop epiphany explodes!).
Or, perhaps, you might prefer the coastal dreaming of “Salty” with hints of Blondie’s cover of “The Tide is High” or late era Talking Heads (I think it’s the percussion). Don’t let the pleasant melodies or the wistful sound of Brenda’s voice fool you, there are some rather biting “knife-to-the gut” lyrics scattered throughout, e.g., “Best Part” and “Here’s”. It reminds me fondly of (and made me dig through my stacks for) records by Electralane (No Shouts, No Calls), Tennis (Young & Old), and Warpaint (The Fool).
So sit there and judge me for being so taken in by artifice and then fall into a pleasant daydream with Wild One courtesy of the lady and gents of North Highlands. (And don’t get too mad at me for planting the seeds of spring in your mind.)