Wild Child’s sophomore release, ‘Runaround’, is indicative of a band ready to command the attention of the mainstream. The group made a tentative entrance into commercial consciousness earlier this year with stop-go single ‘All The Years’ soundtracking the Purina cat food 50th anniversary advertisement, and their latest release comprises many singles befitting of potential future commercials. The unforgettable whistled hook in ‘Crazy Bird’, for example, would slot rather neatly into an advert for an Apple iPod. It is yet to be seen if this style will bolster their critical roster following accolades for ‘Best Indie Act’ and ‘Best Folk Act’ at this year’s Austin Music Awards, but it is sure to enhance their accessibility.
Regrettably, the more marketable direction the band have edged toward in ‘Runaround’ has resulted in a dilution of the quirky, innovative sound that made debut album ‘Pillow Talk’ so exciting. Exacerbating this issue is its slick, pristine production that ultimately leaves the body of work feeling somewhat flat and lacklustre. That’s not to say the album lacks any great moments: rather, those moments could have been better complimented with a raw, bare-to-the-bones production style. In spite of this, Kelsey Wilson’s rich tonal depth and authentic vocal affectations melt the eardrums, and the intriguing musical relationship of Wilson and Alexander Biggins still creates many a memorable melody that render ‘Runaround’ a satisfying, if not spectacular listen.
The album opens strongly with its title track, a song driven by an infectious piano hook and a showcase of Wilson’s breathy, haunting upper register – as well as her ability to leap around an expansive range with incredible ease. It is a melodically unrelenting and vocally audacious opener that augers well for the rest of the album. ‘Victim to Charm’ follows with a more mellow and restrained tone, featuring a Wilson and Biggins vocal to-and-fro layered above the simple but effective violin and piano interplay. The aforementioned hook in ‘Crazy Bird’ switches the album right back to unabashedly catchy pop-folk, completing a troika of excellent tunes.
Unfortunately, track four signals the beginning of mid-album filler. ‘Coming Home’ contains an uncharacteristically forgettable main melody and fails to leave the listener feeling anything but apathy. ‘Stitches’ feels completely disjointed: it jumps from being sombre and reflective to rousing within the first 90 seconds, then descends into odious ‘da da da’ and ‘ba da ba ba ba’ refrains for the remainder. The song simply tries to do too many things at once. Conversely, successor ‘Anna Maria’ fails to really go anywhere. The dual vocals are nice enough, and the ukelele riff at least shapes it into a cohesive track, but much like ‘Coming Home’, it doesn’t inspire.
Lyrically, the album is focused primarily on relationships, love and friendship. Whilst these are generic themes, Wild Child explores them from a more mature, reflective angle and this generally works to great effect. However, there are times when the lyrics are simply lazy, contrived rhymes – particularly evident in ‘This Place’: “I bet you think that I love this place… I bettin’ you wish you could read my face”. The weak lyrics on this track do a complete disservice to Wilson’s gorgeous vocal work (THAT run at 2.12!), and unfortunately must be filed under ‘mid-album filler’ alongside non-track ‘Here Now’.
Thankfully, ‘Living Tree’ plucks the album from mediocrity with one of the most infectious hooks on the LP, sporting a Nelly McKay-esque vocal melody. ‘RilloTalk’ is a truly captivating curveball that sounds like an eclectic amalgam of PJ Harvey, Massive Attack and Laura Marling. The album closes appropriately with ‘Left Behind’; impossible to envisage outwith a campire setting, the track perfectly encapsulates Wild Child’s lyrical aim and concludes the album as it begins – with sombre reflection, memorable hooks and stunning vocals in equal spades.
Overall, ‘Runaround’ is an album of inconsistency. Whilst there is no doubting the commercialisation evident in the release, some of the ‘poppier’ songs such as ‘Crazy Bird’ and ‘Living Tree’ are actually some of the strongest tracks. The mid-album filler is bland, inoffensive, and ultimately utterly disinteresting, accentuated by the squeaky-clean production value. However, the album’s highlights certainly make ‘Runaround’ worth a listen.
This article was first posted on October 18, 2013