A Journey: Front to Back
The UK band, Bastille, known most prominently for their hit “Pompeii,” which helped garner them a “best new artist” Grammy nomination two years ago, continue to solidify their sound. The group’s latest album, Wild World, is a thematically consistent and undeniably spiritual work that, in the course of one hour, illustrates their journey from lost to enlightened. It also proves adventurous with its use of vocal samples and electronic instruments. Wild World truly has something for everyone. It shifts styles and genres consistently, while maintaining Bastille’s signature indie-rock sound. As a result, Wild World succeeds in delivering what fans have been anxiously awaiting.
The first three tracks demonstrate Bastille’s mastery of their sound. “Good Grief,” plays with the idea of grief being an inherently negative concept. However, in true Bastille fashion, the mood of the music contrasts the title of the track, indicating singer Dan Smith’s ambiguous yet nuanced attitude toward this oxymoronic concept. The song starts with a relatively mellow introduction and verse before it swells into a climactic chorus destined for the radio waves. Smith repeats the lyrical phrase, “watching through our fingers,” as if he is a child playing a game with his own perception. Indeed, the album begins with the birth of this unnamed person; it is the role of the audience to watch as he or she embarks on a spiritual journey.
The second track, “The Current,” hearkens back to the highly successful sound of “Pompeii.” Its sound exemplifies the pinnacle of indie-rock: background vocals joined by an eclectic array of instruments, all working together to create a brand new style of garage rock-fused alternative pop. A low, deep synthesized bass rumbles at the beginning. It is accompanied by staccato-bowed violin strings, while the lead singer shows his passion and emotion by repeating, “I can’t believe my eyes.” With all of this energy pulsing, the drums begin to bang out accented sixteenth notes on the hi-hat, giving the song emotion, dynamics and character. Finally, with a nod to the hip-hop-saturated state of popular music, there is a vocal sample in the bridge of this song: “I need a breath, let me fill my lungs,” which presumably alludes to that current which weighs on the mind of the singer so ardently.
Many of the album’s songs have theatrical elements to them. Songs like, “An Act of Kindness,” “Glory” and “Four Walls” add a dramatic flair to Bastille’s trademark sound. In “An Act of Kindness,” for instance, with the piano in the background, the lead singer’s vocals are panned periodically from left to right, whilst emphatically uttering words like kindness. These songs contain funky, groovy rhythms and an interesting arrangement of elements that demonstrate a world-percussion feel. The track, “Four Walls (The Ballad of Perry Smith),” is, by its very definition, an entire story. The song begins with a melodic, dirty synthesizer, a relatively simplistic drum kit rhythm and lead vocals that invoke a sense of reminiscence. In certain instances, the vocal line is allowed the opportunity to emphasize lyrical elements. The left-panned, distorted, fuzzy guitar helps the vocals to swell to unreal heights. A bass kicks on every whole note, producing a fuzzy soundscape that bleeds through the left speaker before eventually coming to the forefront. Finally, the song concludes with a subdued guitar solo, preceding a vocal sample that ends with the word “difficult.” Yet even in their more dramatic songs, Bastille never leave their characteristic, percussive, indie-rock sound.
Almost every one of Bastille’s five members plays some sort of percussion. It definitely shows in the album. Lead singer and keyboardist Smith plays percussion alongside drummer Chris Wood, resulting in a poly-rhythmic blend that is exciting and interesting to experience. Songs like “Power” and “Send Them Off” employ instruments that create rhythmic texture and variety. “Power” features a palm-muted guitar riff for Smith to sing over. And with the reiteration of “ohs” in the vocal line the chorus further emphasizes his point, which is always backed by Bastille’s signature snap snare. “Send Them Off” continues in this same vein, but incorporates more hip-hop elements. Funky drums and horn samples let the listener know right off the bat what sort of rhythmic variety we can expect in this record. The bass-line is allowed to breathe, while the piano and vocals work together, all three instruments complimenting one other. The chorus – an extraordinarily funky hip-hop groove – features all instruments going at full fervor. Smith repeats: “set me free from my jealousy, exercise my mind.” There is no doubt that “Send Them Off” should have been the song of the summer.
The album ends with both a note of affirmation and skepticism. The final track on the album, “Winter Of Our Youth,” begins with choral “oohs” and “ahhs,” in between Smith’s reiteration of the phrase: “can’t help but relive it.” Presumably he is singing about his past – or his youth – and this song is both a nostalgic recreation of his young life as well as his reluctance to go back. In a texturally sparse moment, Smith sings: “got nostalgia running through me and I don’t like it.” “Winter” ends with slowly decaying choral melodies, as the band leaves it to us to try to make sense of this “wild world.” One thing is certain, though: the journey realized at the end of this album is a complex and worthwhile one. It is the product of a band with a much larger vision for themselves than merely being the group who sang “Pompeii.”