In the last edition of our Shop Music feature, we sang the praises of the newest Milk Music releaseÂ Cruise Your Illusion. So it was with great excitement that we learned of Milk Music returning to San Francisco to play an intimate headlining set at a house show in SOMA. It was a great time, nostalgic and uplifting. I grew up listening to hardcore and metal, playing and attending shows in friends' basements and VFW halls. Â San Francisco, being the dense city it is, is not the most conducive locale for house shows. Luckily, myriad venues exist for live music, but there is something inspiring from listening to a band un-mic'd save the vocals in someone's disheveled basement. Sure, the PA may not work right, kids may knock over the band's gear, and the arbitrary amp placement may result in a wall of indecipherable noise, but the energy is what makes it special.
I'd like to think that the positive ju-ju from reviewing Milk Music brought them back to SF. With that in mind our next review will cover the incomparable Wilderness from Baltimore, Md. Since being made aware of Wilderness during college in 2006 (thanks Coleman!) I have been desperately trying to see the live ever since. I have had no such luck, Wilderness is never a band to do things by the book (are they even a band anymore?).
Wilderness is a unique band. Maniacal shouts, minimalist rhythm, riff-less twangy guitar lines prod along in absolute restraint. The band is like a glacier. Not in their aesthetic sound, but in their approach. Wilderness songs are always going somewhere, but the band doesn't mind taking their time. A band like this wouldn't go over too well with most listeners, I thought. People want hooks, something to hang their proverbial hat on and Wilderness does not play that game.
Wilderness has put out three records. Many cite their 2005 debut as their best offering, and I don't disagree that it is a masterpiece record. The second album, Vessel States, was released the following year and showed the band honing their sound. Critics complained that the second album did not build enough off of the first. I don't disagree. What I find flawed is the idea that addition is the avenue for a band to show progress. Wilderness refined their stark sound for the second record by amplifying the minimalism. Every note is essential.
The two songs that end the album, Gravity Bent Light and the closer Monumental, are perfect examples of Wilderness' minimalist approach to post-punk. Gravity Bent Light commences with leftover synthesizer fragments from the interlude that preceded it. A guitar enters the foray, slightly distorted playing a riff that will be repeated for the next four minutes. Bass and drums work together, toms and the snare matching the bass step for step, except for a hi-hat hit and occasional fill. Jason Johnson is in top form. In his idiosyncratic way, he spends the first minute plus of the song repeating the word "hallelujah" just four times. It is not until over four minutes into the song do we get a break from the constant tempo. Signaled by the syncopated hi-hat, the band kicks into high gear (relatively speaking). Johnson still shouts over the cacophony, now a pulsating post-punk, PiL-like attack. As soon as the band ramped up the sound they choose to hold back once again, letting the song fade off and end.
Gravity Bent Light does not exist on Youtube, this song should suffice
The album closer and personal favorite of mine, Monumental, shows a band doing so much with so little. The song contains one riff repeated over and over. The bass riff contains a one note swell. The swell accentuates the drum pattern, mechanical but human, and locks in the with the twang of the guitar. The song is 3 minutes long, contains only one riff and always feels way too short.