Three years ago, The Wild Reeds made a statement with Blind and Brave, which was a cohesive LP that paid homage to the evolution of folk music. This was a record that was meant to be listened to at the cottage or around the campfire, where the rich harmonies and soothing melodies could be heard in the still air. Given the LP’s characteristics, we predicted the band would soon be performing at Newport Folk Festival. It took a while, but they’ll be making their well-deserved debut at the iconic music festival this year. The timing, however, could not have been more perfect, as The Wild Reeds unveiled their third album two weeks ago. In a word, The World We Built is outstanding.
Whereas Blind and Brave was captivating for its dreaminess, The World We Built entices for its complexity. The Los Angeles-based quintet could have taken the easy road and created another indie-folk record (which many within the genre do), but they have opted to evolve. The World We Built still retains many of the characteristics that made The Wild Reeds favorites of NPR and music tastemakers – the three-part harmonies of Kinsey Lee, Sharon Silva, and Mackenzie Howe; the intimate and vivid storytelling; and the warm, homely textures. At the same time, much of the album is edgier and fuller, filled with classic folk-rock and southern-rock influences that at times feels like the band could break out into a My Morning Jacket-esque jam session. When the old and new elements come together, the result is an existential experience by folk standards.
The album’s bookends best exemplify The Wild Reeds’ maturation. The opener, “Only Songs”, is folk-rock song with two sides. The melodies are lush at first, and the storytelling feels right out of a novella concerning a love affair one never wants to forget. Just as you think the song will stay nice and gentle, the band amps up the intensity, and the songs roars to near euphoric levels. At one moment, you’re swaying to the vocals of the three vocalists. The next minute, you’re rocking your head back-and-forth as the wailing electric guitar guides the song to its finale.
The closing track, “Fruition”, is a six-and-a-half epic, and it’s the album’s highlight. It begins gently with Lee, Silva, and Howe’s sweet vocals sharing a personal story of “searching for worth” within and beyond oneself. The song slowly then builds, and the climax is an explosive collision of the hammering rhythm section, Lee’s vocals, and a piercing electric guitar. The possibilities for this magnificent song live are endless.
“Fall to Sleep” follows the same approach as “Only Songs”, although the song is grittier and edgier. The song recalls more Bleached than The Head and The Heart, and the final guitar solo is fantastic. “Fall to Sleep” is also arguably the album’s standout songwriting track. It is steeped in memory and pain, as Lee tells the tale of someone close who struggles to get through each day and has difficulties making it to her “9-to-5”. It’s another example of the growth of the band.
The southern folk-rocker “Fix You Up” is a clever, swooning number about undying love. Hearts will swell during the memorable chorus, “Let my love fix you up when you are down”, which is repeated as the instrumentation similarly reaches exhilarating levels. “Back to Earth” is an endearing number dedicated to someone close who has left this earth. Then again, it could be an ode to David Bowie, as the three women look to the stars throughout this stirring number.
The Wild Reeds haven’t completely abandoned their folk foundations. The title track is an old-fashion folk number, where the three-part harmonies lull the listener into a relaxed and dreamy state. “Everything is Better (in Hindsight)” is the one song on the album that could have been on Blind and Brave. The harmonies and music, particularly the combination of the banjo and acoustic guitar, are warm and breathtaking. Despite the song’s sweetness, a bitterness resonates across this song about a cheating heart. “Patience” strikes a similar chord with respect to its approach – a soft and delicate number that stirs every possible emotion in one’s body.
That is one of the hallmarks of a great band – one who can elicit multiple feelings within a short time span. Like other great bands, The Wild Reeds are evolving and transforming, never settling to be a specific type of group. They’re doing it in a way to ensure their music will still appeal to old fans while bringing in new ones into their fold. With The World We Built, they have delivered an album that masterfully brings together their past lives and the one that is looking towards the future. No longer are they paying homage to what was; they’re now paving new paths for others to follow.
The Wild Reeds are Kinsey Lee (banjo), Sharon Silva (guitar), Mackenzie Howe’s (guitar/banjo), Nick Jones (drums), and Nick Phakpiseth (bass). Connect with them at:
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