One of the most eagerly anticipated albums of 2018 is finally released and, oh my god, wasn’t it worth the wait? Welcome to one of your favourite albums of the year.
The story of how The Wandering Hearts have reached this point is one that still gives you a modicum of faith in the record industry. When so much of modern content and product is manufactured, fake or facile it is almost life affirming to listen to a band who have got so much integrity about them.
Band members Tim and Tara first met at a gig a couple of years ago and began discussions about music and exploring common interests. They were introduced to Chess and AJ through mutual friends. The band had only put up their first demo onto Soundcloud by 30 minutes when management came knocking – it’s almost like something from a movie! They were soon snapped up by Decca Records, home to fellow UK artists, The Shires, and it was at last year’s C2C festival in London that they really began to make an impression on the UK Country / Roots scene. A summer on the road playing festivals lead to a support slot on Marty Stuart’s UK tour and here we are in February 2018 – a debut album out and a sold out UK tour in the offing – plus the promise of further exposure at this years C2C festival on the Radio 2 stage at the Indigo. Life is good, right now, for The Wandering Hearts – but make no mistake – this is no flash in the pan, these guys are no ‘one album, zeitgeist’ wonders – with the right direction, support and input from their record label I think we are looking at the genesis of a major musical act – one that could crossover into the mainstream consciousness the way Amy Winehouse, Adele and Mumford & Sons did.
‘Wild Silence’ is an album that has been fused together by the collective spirits of a diverse range of influences and time periods. There’s Simon & Garfunkel in there, there’s Fleetwood Mac but there’s also the Americana of acts like Little Big Town and a healthy, modern sprinkling of Imagine Dragons. This is not a Country album but it’s not a folk album either – it’s something much, much, more: something undefinable, magical, joyous, thoughtful and uplifting. Oh, and these guys can harmonise like you wouldn’t believe.
Album opener, ‘Rattle’ sets the tone with its funky guitars and finger click persuasion. The floaty, almost ethereal female vocals give way to a gruff, male lead and then the song kicks up a notch with a drum driven chorus. This is the way of The Wandering Hearts, this is their manifesto – just when you think you are listening to a folk song, the rock will kick in or the Americana will grab you. ‘I Wish I Could’ is similar – a gentle, ‘Scarborough Fair’ style opening lulls you into thinking this is just a folk song about regret, about wanting to press the reset button on a relationship in its death throws but then the ‘Woh Oh’ backing vocals kick in and the song becomes earthed in a more modern setting. Kudos for the pronunciation of ‘carn’t’ and ‘arnswer’ in the song too – making it seem very English.
That regional theme, be it a sort of medieval cadence to the vocals or a sweeping Gaelic or Celtic-like feel runs through a number of songs on ‘Wild Silence’. ‘Burning Bridges’ is a gentle, lilting English folk song with almost Little Big Town style melodies whilst album closer ‘Iona’ sees the narrative switching to the Hebrides where a woman ‘waits alone, here on the Island by the sea’ for a fisherman never destined to return. What is lyrically the most folk-inspired song on the album soon breaks out, though, into a huge chorus with a very modern feel to it – such is the beauty of what The Wandering Hearts can do – just when you think you should be stroking your beard and revelling in the warmth of your warm, aran jumper, they explode a song or a chorus and make you realise that it’s actually 2018 and you are not as old as you think you are!!
‘Change for the Good’ continues in the same vein. This one is a protest song in the great tradition of roots music. “I don’t think we can take anymore head in hands,” they sing, referring to the post-Brexit, post-Trump landscape, “I know you think it couldn’t get any worse, watching our house being torn to the ground,” they lament in a rare look inside their world at their political leanings but just when you aren’t sure whether you are in early 70’s San Fransisco or 2018 Luton they beef up the sound with a larger drumbeat or their, what is becoming now traditional, symphonic harmonies, meaning that you could be in either place, at either time. The same could be said of gentle ballad, ‘If I Fall’. A gorgeous song, largely helmed by the girls. This could easily have been lifted off the last Little Big Town album, which in itself, sounds like it could have been made anytime from 1968. Modern production and the use of larger backing vocals ground the song in 2018 but there is a timelessness to it that is both genre defying and unpigeonholable.
‘Laid in the Ground’ lulls you into thinking it is also a folk song. A haunting, Simon and Garfunkel style beginning and an almost medieval vocal melody carries the song along in one particular genre until the refrain, ‘said I wouldn’t leave you alone and I didn’t’ kicks in and then you go, uh! hello – Mumford and Sons have turned up then? And all of a sudden we are back in arenas with our fists in the air.
That ability to switch timeframes and genres is something, I think, The Wandering Hearts will become renowned for. The title track, ‘Wild Silence’ begins with gorgeous all female vocals and finger click percussion. The verses are subtle and the instrumentation sparse but then the chorus explodes in the way that a band like Imagine Dragons’ songs do but the real ‘moneyshot’ in this song comes about three-quarters of the way in when there’s an acapella moment followed by an almost 1980’s style, Phil Collins ‘In the Air Tonight’ drum roll. Genius. And another example of the band taking you one way and sucker-punching you with something unexpected – that happens on this album all the time. It happens on the ‘sleeping giant’ song on the album, ‘Biting Through the Wires’ too – which is another song about regret (a real theme on this album) and about fighting to try and reset a situation or find a spark in something that has gone. ‘…Wires’ is the the real outlier on ‘Wild Silence’, the more I listen to it, the more I think this could be the one that crosses over, the one that introduces the band to the wider, Radio 2, ‘buy your CD in a supermarket’ type of crowd. It starts with a funky, bluesy acoustic guitar riff which then bleeds into a gorgeous chorus replete with an 80’s tinged ‘synth-keyboard’ riff straight from the depths of an Ultravox or Eurythmics album! Again, the unexpected. A song that starts off in one genre and flirts with elements of another. ‘…Wires’ should be a glorious live song and one that has a life of its own beyond the album if handled with care.
There are two more songs on ‘Wild Silence’ that also have that mass mainstream appeal. ‘Heartbreak Hotel’ is the most modern sounding song on the album – it’s another where a single refrain, ‘tap drips and it sounds like thunder, like thunder’ – is straight out of the Imagine Dragons playbook, but not in any plagiarised way, and it is another song about regret and and about feeling trapped whilst ‘Fire and Water’ might well become the biggest selling single on ‘Wild Silence’ if the band choose to release it. I can only describe this one as ‘part frantic busking song, part Mumford and Sons sonic explosion’! The unexpected moment in this song, because of course, similar to most the tracks on the album, there is one, is when there is what is essentially a break for some yodelling about three-quarters of the way in – on the most commercial song on the album, the song that would stop Radio 2 listeners in their gardens or as they potter about their kitchens in that sort of mid afternoon stupor – there’s a bloody break for yodelling and it’s bloody genius! ‘Fire and Water’ was my initial favourite on the album although I think that has given way to ‘Biting Through the Wires’ now but that tells you that without repeated listens ‘Fire and Water’ is the catchiest, most sonically exciting song, with it’s big, gruff chorus and its explosive vocals.
And finally we come to ‘Devil’. This was the very first song I ever heard from The Wandering Hearts, cramped, as I was, up in All-Bar-One at the C2C festival impatiently waiting for Kristian Bush to arrive, as it was him I had gone there to see last year. I’d cunningly decided to go early and ‘sit through’ the artists that were on before him – it was The Wandering Hearts and they played ‘Devil’ and I never forgot it! Hunted them down (not literally, that’s creepy) afterwards and was pleased as the proverbial punch when they eventually released it as a single. It’s here, in all its glory on ‘Wild Silence’. It’s the most obviously Fleetwood Mac influenced song on the album, with it’s Mac-like vocal harmonies and it’s ‘Little Lies’ feel but it’s a cracker and it has served it’s purpose in helping to get the band to this point right now.
Just buy, download, stream (and buy the vinyl so at least the band get some money) this album, you won’t regret it. ‘Wild Silence’ will take you on a journey through genres and times. It will surpass and delight you with its myriad of unexpected moments – it will make you feel like a rock star at times but at others it will lull and sooth you with it’s ethereal tones. Sometimes you’ll love the girls’ harmonies and at others you’ll dig the rough male vocals. Your favourite song will change depending on your mood and through it all you’ll marvel at how these four people have come together to create such a wonderful piece of music. Undefinable, unexpected and unusual – just the type of band we need right now in the UK music scene, taking us forward into the future with a healthy respect for the past.
James Daykin (@rockjames)