When executed skillfully, album cover art should provide a hint as to the character of the music inside. Of course there are countless exceptions – the all-white cover of The Beatles only had embossed lettering and a stamped number. But then that was The Beatles.
Night Wilds’ All That Should Have Been welcomes listeners with a nightmarish and sinister carnivalesque cover image; telegraphing that what lies inside may be shot through with darkness and malevolence. And a quick look at the track sequence suggests that the debut album from this group based in Seattle and Montana is at least loosely conceptual, or built around a narrative of sorts.
Those clues are helpful, but it’s the music itself that matter. The curtain comes up with the opening track, “The Curtain.” A spirited accordion backs a carnival barker vocal who comments on the musicianship (“That sounds like shit,” he exclaims). Imagine a Tim Burton film with a David Lynch vibe, and you’re on the right track. As the sound of large crowd fades in the show begins with “The show.” More whirligig sounds, a bass synth that sounds like a tube-meets-calliope, and other spooky bits come in.
But then a more rock-focused arrangement reveals itself, with shredding guitar leads and a thunderous rhythm section that plays faster, faster, faster. “Mother” is nearly as creepy as the same-titled cut on Pink Floyd’s The Wall, with elegiac strings and a tinkling piano. The singer croons in a style that suggests a more mellifluous Alice Cooper or Roger Waters. But it leads into “Fear,” which is the aural expression of that very word. Atmospheric with stabbing, faraway guitar textures and pop-out-of-the-closet screaming, it’s a movie for the ears, albeit an unsettling one.
The album continues along these lines; at 17 tracks, All That Should Have Been is clearly designed as a mood piece. Night Wilds describe themselves as a “progressive alt-rock band,” and that label fits as well as any. It’s not until the fifth track, “New Jerusalem,” that the album delivers a conventional song. And the tune has much in common with The Final Cut-era Pink Floyd; how a potential listener might feel about that is up to the individual.
The seething “Confusion” combines a Jefferson Airplane style rhythm to more atmospherics. The most rocking (and accessible)track on the set is also the record’s best: “Where Do We Go From Here” delivers on the prog side of the band’s self-description, with a complex rhythm, quiet/loud contrasts and some of the set’s best balladeering. The contemplative “A Long Way from Graceland” features a lead vocal reminiscent of Mark Knopfler.
The demented shouting that punctuates the Watersy vocal of the closing “Where Do We Go From Here v2” is jarring in the extreme; one supposes it makes sense, but it won’t be most people’s idea of a fun aural experience. A strange and foreboding listening experience, Night Wilds’ debut should find favor with listeners who prefer their music dark, dramatic, doomy and disturbing.