There’s something about the nature of threes. A trio of something, particularly within the context of music, often presents a sense of balance and cohesion despite its distinct lack of even dividing. Just look at the grace of a classic 3/4 waltz. What’s even more interesting in this regard, is when a trio of something might arise even when it hasn’t been planned or accounted for. This is what dawned on Will McCarry of Virginia’s indie folk band, Wylder, as he gradually assembled the collection of 10 humble, earnest, and self-reflective songs that would become new album The Waking Sound (independent, 2022).
More than three years removed from sophomore full-length Golden Age Thinking (independent, 2019) and having had his own unique experience enduring the unexpected struggles and emotional whiplash brought on by the pandemic, McCarry’s inner calling to write music endured as well. However, unlike so many who released music specifically as a way to process and cope with the global experience of lockdown, McCarry’s new writings found a thread of connection to not only Wylder’s second release, but also the band’s debut Rain and Laura (independent, 2016). The realization didn’t arise in an especially striking fashion but the album exudes continuity nonetheless.
“My previous albums, Rain and Laura and Golden Age Thinking are both peppered with feelings of longing and doubt. They document a long period of ambiguity and uncertainty,” McCarry says. “As I was working through The Waking Sound, I realized that these new tunes were in direct conversation with those feelings–that they offered my former self (and maybe some of you) a way through the fog of life.”
Rain and Laura is a record built atop a variety of feelings: of snarky glee, wistful regret, and energetic reflection, all channeled through a musical vein of light and somewhat whimsical acoustic folk (Who can forget the crisp chime of glockenspiel on breakout single “Sunstroke”?) Golden Age Thinking put the refined chemistry of Wylder on display, both on the part of the members as people and as bandmates with distinct desires for their brought to the group’s collective sound. The record bore the fruits of honest self-adjustment Wylder cultivated after determining what kind of sound the members wanted to share through their instruments; first breaking away from the confines of a single style mold but realizing the group didn’t want Wylder to be lost in the obscurity of too much resonance with every other band who opted to integrate more tonal weight via amplification in their arrangements. The results reflect an applaudable commitment to patience in a challenging search for the right musical fit for Wylder.
Delving into The Waking Sound with McCarry’s personal insight and Wylder’s musical evolution in mind, it’s intriguing to hear how the tonal personality of The Waking Sound stands alongside its sibling records. The album retains the sonic harmony Wylder struck on its last record. But McCarry, who is largely carrying the torch for the group on his own shoulders these days (the other members are still very much a part of the band, collaborating, recording, and performing live but not as visible in the day-to-day confessions of the creative process), has turned the dial back every-so-slightly back toward the transparent sound of open acoustic tones. A cleanly plucked acoustic guitar and McCarry’s light, earnest, and incredibly recognizable voice serve as a the core pillar for many of the songs. Still, that’s not to say this is a stripped down album lacking Wylder’s appreciation for a touch of imaginative sparkle.
Opening track, “Pick Me Up” is a perfect example of this negotiation in arrangement, as a rhythmically bouncy motif consisting stepwise, higher pitched, plucked guitar notes, ring out with a splash of reverb while retaining a slight bite in the attack of each note. However, this striking sound sits secondary a gentle, sustaining string part that begins the track and remains throughout, while a modest electronic drum beat showcases one of the new ways McCarry maintains a tether to more digital definition, without upping the ante of amplification. The song gradually builds toward a full and colorful arrangement complete with piano, splashes of cymbals, and the friendly pulse of shakers. It’s undeniably busy but in flows with an intricate and synchronous harmony, like a bustling town main street. As such, the music never feels like it has taken a hard pivot away from the transparent style of indie folk with which Wylder thrives.
Conversely, a song like “Take Hold” embraces a more straightforward instrumental and tonal profile. Limiting its roll call to a thumping kick beat, prominent piano chords, and the subtle recurrence of more delicate, high-pitched plucks from McCarry’s acoustic guitar, there’s less whimsical melodic character at play. A clean-toned electric guitar eventually arises, bolstering the declarative power of McCarry’s reflections but its role is that of a mirroring support with the piano, as both instrument play a brief ascending flutter of notes that then lead into a descending see-sawing motif. The overall feel of the track orbits closer to the foot-stomping style of folk that pervaded the early 2010s. It’s not an approach to indie folk writing that seems suited to Wylder for more than an isolated moment at a time but the more structured foundation framing McCarry’s vocal part helps to create a solid contrast and provide an easier path to focus on the story McCarry is out to tell. In this way, it’s a not just interesting and unexpected but functionally useful as well.
There’ll be signs in the trees that show you on your own
So you turn and push it all aside
find a pattern in the failing light
There’s a season for something new
from the theory of losing you
– Lyrics from “Take Hold”
Jump ahead a couple more tracks to “Hold Me Closer Now” and a sense of musical whimsy returns, as McCarry puts not just his signature flair for snug, warm, layered unison overdubs and harmonies on display but all of that sung in a confident falsetto. While McCarry’s voice has always hovered in a higher register, there’s no denying the novel surprise that comes with hearing this vocal approach. Combined with a snappy toned digital snare beat and a slightly warbly, key tone with an air of string-like timbre and the foundation of this song stands without an immediate comparative within the Wylder canon. It’s the most sonically unusual of the bunch – flashing a spark of Beirut like oddness through its tonal makeup and melodic hook – but this isn’t a detriment. Rather, leaned up against the bright but lush, or crisp and natural production styles of songs that sit nearby on the track list and “Hold Me Closer Now” makes for an exciting and welcome creative detour that is exactly what a new record is for, right?
Though the songs that sit “nearby” bear familiar approaches to production, they aren’t phoned-in carbon copies. It’s more a case that they feel like humble nods of respect, without being literal call backs. The rhythmic hook and prioritization of snare and piano in “Middle of May” for example, imparts the faintest of musical echoes back to “Snake in the Grass,” but such a note comes across like a quick vision of something familiar in the corner of the eye that goes as quickly as it came. Meanwhile, the rare appearance of electric guitar dressed in tonal effects, the more liberal turn to a full band choruses, and an embrace of dynamic projection in “To Call You Home” reminds listeners that Wylder isn’t shying away from the more adventurous punch the band carefully managed to capture in order to craft sonically evolved songs like “Ready to Break” or “If I Love You.”
Other glimmers of atypical sonic effects on instruments here and there, the varying placements of McCarry’s vocals in different mixes, the exact amount of space that each instrumental part is given to stand out or retreat in a song – all of these subtle decisions reveal creative contemplation on McCarry’s part. There’s plenty of fresh sounding nuance to how he presents his interpretation of “indie folk for indie folks” this time around (another element of the record that gives Wylder’s musicality a sense of forward development) but the tiny feeling of unpredictability that accompanies this zest for musical tinkering feels just right: Listeners are kept on their toes for the future but not so much as to fret about stylistic shock value as this trilogy comes to a close. The music of Wylder having always been built on so much of McCarry’s own experiences, it’s not hard to see that with McCarry’s readiness to take on new things in life, the stories of Wylder will invariably come to meet that enthusiasm right where he is, equally poised to begin anew.
Keep connected with Will McCarry and Wylder through the official website and these social media platforms: