"Where do we draw the line, between feeding a habit and having a good time?" ask We the Wild, a young band from Portland. The line is from a song titled "Terrible, Terrible" and it is one of ten tracks on their debut album From the Cities We Fled. The rainy streets of Portland are as hostile to youth as anyplace else, and it is those types of struggles that their lyrics chronicle. But it is the music that makes this self-released disc such a gem. We the Wild have a hardcore background, but they mix in all sorts of other flavors: rock, punk, jazz, mathlete guitars, Cookie Monster vocals, classical piano, everything under the sun you might say. Unlike a lot of other bands, none of this feels gratuitous, everything fits, and everything has its place.
When I heard that WtW were coming to town recently, I was ready. And so were the touring gremlins, as it turned out. Mechanical problems with their van drastically reduced the tour, but thankfully they made it to Seattle. It was a great show, although being on a bill with three other groups meant a shortened set. And for all the fabled history of Seattle's Central Tavern, the place has never been known for great sound. One of the things I have thought from the beginning about this band is how broad their appeal would be if they were exposed to a wide audience. In a one-person testimonial to this theory, my date (who tends towards classic rock) instantly "got" We the Wild.
The members of the quintet are: Benjamin Cline - (vocals) Joe Lawson - (drums, vocals), Miles Davenport - (guitar, vocals), Elliot Sikes - (guitar), and Julian Rossetti - (bass). They graciously answered a few questions before the show began, and the first thing I wondered about is how they would describe their music. "We use the term 'post-hardcore' to describe ourselves," answered Miles. It seemed like that was a question he has been asked before, because he soon amended his response, "Actually I should say that we have a very good chord library," he concluded.
While their roots are hardcore, where WtW really shine is in writing melodies and pop hooks. Their songs are incredibly catchy. This is a group who have refined their music to a point where there is nobody else like them. Even those who profess to hate punk or hardcore should hear From the Cities We Fled, because the contrast between the "abrasive" vocals and guitars with the amazing hooks and riffs they churn out make for a marvelous payoff.
The songs are about drugs, prostitutes, losing old friends, the clampdown on clubs...you know, the fun stuff. What I did not know until we spoke was that to make this very urban NW album they "got away from it all." They basically went to a cabin in the woods and wrote and rehearsed and wrote and rehearsed until they had it down cold.
Armed with this knowledge I listened to the disc again and realized that the opening "Still Asunder" actually works as a thumbnail sketch of the entire album. The song opens with the soft sound of raindrops, which harden into the sound of a good old-fashioned typewriter. Then the rhythmic typing is replaced with Lawson's drums as the music gets underway. The woodshedding they did in the cabin is addressed with the raindrops and typewriter, while the "heavy" vocals and guitars are met with equally "friendly" pop hooks at every turn.
"Exodus and Decay" was the first single, and the following excerpted quote from The Deli Magazine was WtW's way of introducing it: "Exodus and Decay' was written about the alarming state of Portland's local hardcore scene, and the attitude of apathy that locals have taken to our passion for the music we create"
The very next tune "Ol Boy" is the second single, and this excerpted WtW quote comes from Performer Magazine, "The core message in "Ol' Boy" is about independence and self-worth. People are constantly changing, and not always for the better."
The record-biz term for opening your CD with your strongest songs is called "front-loading," but that is only if you have a bunch of crap after the first two or three. While the singles are two pretty great tunes, they are not even my favorites. "Roxy, the Cops are Here" is (for now at least). Tied to an irresistible melody, the line "Nothing ever looked so pretty, and nothing ever felt so wrong" has been in my head for a long time. The video for "Roxy" is a low-budget riot, with a mustachioed hooker, some cops, and a couple of Mormons on bicycles - all tangled up in an industrial backlot somewhere. While the video is hilarious, the subject of a prostitute's OD is pretty grim. This type of contrast is a fundamental element of WtW, a constant reminder that they are anything but one-dimensional.
"Roxy" is an older tune that is rarely played live these days, but they did play my second favorite song, "Terrible, Terrible" (previously quoted). I loved their dead-pan introduction of it at The Central: "Here's another song about drugs." Yes, it is another song about drugs all right, but one with a message that resonates.
I have listened to From the Cities We Fled many times, and there is one track that I kept skipping because it made me cringe. When I knew that I would be writing about them, I quit skipping "King of Wounds," and finally understood how essential it is. This is their "confessional," for God's sake! Ever since Green Day's "Good Riddance (Time of Your Life)," the self-absorbed "narcissistic" ballad is required. And as much as I want to make fun of those songs, or think they are self-serving, I can't. It is youth. It is what you do. From the Cities We Fled would not be the genuine article without "King of Wounds" and that's all there is to it.
I didn't know what to make of "Hold" the first time I heard it either. It is a solo, acoustic piano piece that seemed almost laughably out of place until I put away my preconceived notions. It is a beautiful interlude, and serves as an excellent introduction to the apocalyptic finale "2001" This song is one of those "all in" songs, with just everything but the proverbial kitchen sink and it is indescribably amazing. Throw in the four horsemen, and you have it all.
And then it is over. Ten songs in a little over 49 minutes that pulled me out of a really difficult time in my life. The abundance of creativity, and the honesty of the lyrics spoke to a sense of purpose that I had nearly forgotten. This is more an impression than a statement, but in thinking about what a crass and ugly year 2016 was, and comparing that to the feeling I get in listening to We the Wild, these words came to mind: The soul of a true musician never changes hands.