For a decade, Wolf People have hovered in the shadows within the UK music scene. As bands like Alt-J, Disclosure, Mumford and Sons, and Temples shot to fame, the quartet of Jack Sharp (guitar/vocals), Tom Watt (drums), Dan Davies (bass), and Joe Hollick (guitar) pushed in a different direction. Forget mainstream, Wolf People aimed to impress through innovation and ingenuity. And slowly but surely, critics, tastemasters, and music fans are taking notice.
Their combination of progressive rock, neo-psychedelia, sludge rock, and freak folk is unmatched. Their 2010 debut Steeple was just the tip of the iceberg, offering a unique wall of sound that made Black Sabbath’s Paranoid seem like a record for nursery school kids. 2013’s Fain amped up the fuzz without compromising on the sludgy brilliance of their debut. Now comes Ruins, which is Wolf People’s most accessible album to date but also their most spectacular.
While the band says Ruins is not intended to be a concept album, it can be interpreted like a series of short stories focused on 16th to 18th mythology and nature’s revival and revival. It is Edgar Allen Poe’s The Raven brought to life, Beowulf retold, and Alfred Hitchcock’s The Birds reincarnated, filtered through a mix of fiery guitars, cataclysmic percussion, and a fierce bassline that will have your heart pounding. This isn’t a slow retaking of the planet but a full-blown assault.
Not since Radiohead’s In Rainbows has an album started with four memorable songs. But as oppose to sonically lush and intoxicating numbers, Wolf People offer four explosive, spine-tingling songs. The opener “Ninth Night” is a flamethrower of a psychedelic-folk-rock tune, as the band re-tells an 18th Century myth of the Hand of Glory – the stolen hand of a hanged man that was dipped in wax. A tsunami of blazing guitars awaits on the thrashing and awesome “Rhine Sagas”, arguably one of the year’s best neck-spraining numbers.
Like a wall of lush ferocity comes “Night Witch”, which is one of the songs of the year. The track combines the multiple genres that make up Wolf People’s trailblazing sound at the same time showcasing their dramatic sensibilities. The song crests not once nor twice but at least four times. “Night Witch”, lyrically, is more than just the simple re-telling of the crimes committed upon women who were categorized as witches and subsequently burned at the stake. On the contrary, Wolf People remind us that it is another select few who cast spells and blind us to their beliefs. The message is an important one in this time of misinformation.
Ruins‘ heartbeat, however, lies in “Kingfisher”. Like The Decemberists on “The Crane Wife”, Wolf People craft a three-part saga that spreads across the album. The main number is a slow-building rocker about a beautiful kingfisher flying through the air, but people are oblivious to its presence. It is another relevant message, as now more than ever the world must heed the changes occurring on the planet. The other two parts are instrumental reprisals, reinterpreting medieval songs through a modern-day, psych-folk-rock prism.
Reflecting the time of King Arthur, an understated elegance kicks off “Crumbling Dias” before it is transformed into a mind-altering, hypnotic, melodic rocker. The cleverly-titled song and brilliant lyricism signify the fall of a regime that collapses under the weight of its own greed and selfishness. On “Not Me Sir”, Wolf People take their innovation to new heights, where they blend not just different eras but cultures. The song is infused with Norse mythology, Medieval grace, Ravi Shankar-inspired psychedelia, and contemporary freak folk. It is groovy, spacey, and a mind trip about one proclaiming his innocence in a sea full of guilt.
Wolf People take a different tact with “Salt Mills”, offering a slower, more melodic number. The ingenuity remains, as the song is the beautiful marriage of funk, disco, and neo-psychedelia. An air of The Bee Gees, as such, permeates throughout the song, particularly in Sharp’s falsetto and the lush, shimmering chorus. The guitar and percussion work, however, echo The Byrds and My Morning Jacket’s most inventive work.
The finale, “Glass”, is a burner and the perfect ending. The final two minutes are epic and should be a mind-blowing experience witnessed live. Meanwhile, the song’s meaning ties the entire album’s various components together – nature and its beauty, the fragility of our planet, and the everlasting damages that could be done if things fall apart. Wolf People are not simply a far-out, rocking band. They are modern-day storytellers, poets, and philosophers, whose creativity extends well beyond the spoken word. Ruins exemplifies their genius and as one of indie music’s most extraordinary bands.
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