Wolfcolony - Welcome to the Wild Side
To take a walk on the wild side or to not
That is the question
Wolfcolony is the musical endeavor of singer-songwriter “Wolf,” paired with producer Neal Sarin while in college. There was no intention of making this an overly serious project, however as time evolved, the music seemingly became much more than just an artistic expression, and became something they felt would be accessible to the masses. Perhaps most interesting about Wolfcolony is their emphasis on aesthetic presentation. Wolf himself is frequently seen sporting a wolf mask. This sort of appearance, whether live, on an album cover, and other artwork that comes associated with the band, is something I truly enjoy as it takes a musician to a new high. They are now a symbol, and we begin to associate their musical sounds with this aesthetic and color usage. In a live setting, this can be brought out even further as Wolfcolony has explored with their live multi-media performances entitled “Choices.” Fundamentally, this band, at least, has a unique perspective to take when it comes to music. They create tracks that are accessible and essentially poppy (in terms of song structure especially), yet they linger within a relatively dark and drear aesthetic. This may be a fantastic album for those of you who enjoy sensory overload. The auditory tones that color this album are haunting. The imagery that comes paired with this artist puts in display the melancholy nature of the music. In a sense: it is a little abnormal, yet very pleasurable and surreal.
A quote from Wolfcolony’s online biography in essence sums up what you can expect from your listening experience. The question I seek to answer with this review is whether or not this artist has been able to achieve the well-defined musical goal, and if the music stands up to the words on their website, or if this is all just some egotistical hyperbole.
“Wolfcolony set out to deliver a unique blend of electronic indie pop, characterized by lush, lo-fi atmospheres with a really organic, candle-lit feel. For an act so centered on an electronic music work frame, it might be really tempting to indulge into unnecessary over-editing and over-production, but Wolfcolony chose instead to adorn their songs with relatively bare arrangements dominated by a few, high-impact elements that offer a roomy, massive, yet intimate and honest soundscape.”
This review will be extremely in depth as I am looking to explore the tracks presented to us on Wolfcolony’s first EP release entitled Welcome to the Wild Side.
From the opening moments of the debut track entitled “Youth,” I had some sense that the production values on this album would be high. As a musician myself, I understand the difficulty that scoring a good producer can be, and no doubt I must commend Wolf and Neal Sarin on their ability to mix and master an album with an excellent dynamic range. At no point on this album does it feel overly compressed (IE: the tracks do not feel too loud for the style of music), nor did I encounter any other amateur mistakes such as clipping tracks or frankly even poor, thin, or muddy mixes. Across Welcome to the Wild Side’s seven tracks, all feel confidently put together, accessible, and to put it plainly: sound very good.
The same high scoring remarks can be said for Wolf’s compositional skills. While the tracks fundamentally service a pop music structure, the infusion of a variety of timbres and tones allow these songs to take on a very unique sound. The structure from track to track is very intentional, and at no point did I feel like I was struggling to get through a song. Unlike many modern pop albums, there are no real filler tracks present on this album.
On one hand, it could be argued that there is not a whole lot of instrumental diversity on Wolfcolony’s recent release. It is very synth, piano, and beat heavy. At the end of the day, it sounds very much industrial, stripping away a lot of acoustic tones in exchange for often cold sounding artificially manufactured sounds. This is all true, but not inherently a negative quality of the music presented to us on this album. Fortunately, access to synth tones allows Wolf to incorporate a number of different sounds with one instrument. I cannot deny that I would have loved to hear an acoustic guitar or similar stringed instrument at least a few times on this album, just to add some natural warmth to the recordings. In addition, it is a personal enjoyment of mine to here acoustic instruments paired up with synthetic ones. It just creates a unique space, which is difficult to replicate with predominately synth instrumentation. With this subjective desire out of the way, I still cannot deny how memorable some of the tracks on this album have become in my mind after multiple listens to the album. There is a subdued intensity that is hard to come by with other artists operating with this melancholic industrial/pop sound. An immediate and accessible comparison that comes to mind is The Postal Service, though this comparison is only really found at the surface and is meant as a point of reference for my readers as opposed to saying that Wolfcolony sounds like or equals The Postal Service. With that in mind, both artists are comparable in that they carry similar aesthetic interests, atmospheres, and are electronic heavy.
In terms of the vocals presented to us on Welcome to the Wild Side, I cannot deny that I really enjoy the sound here. In the least, Wolf’s vocal stylings really have sealed the deal that I will enjoy this album even beyond this review. It is hard to find a contemporary comparison for his vocal style. It works best when it is striking very emotional notes throughout his musical pieces, and works well with the music to develop an atmospheric quality reminiscent of a lot of martial neo-folk and black metal artists that I so commonly listen to. A great example of this often subdued and atmosphere inducing vocal style is on the final track entitled “Hollowood.” Of course, as with anything, there is some room for improvement; and I think a track or two in the future would work well to include some more “out there” vocal effects and even a duet with a female voice.
Individual Track Analysis
Wolfcolony has produced an album of music that entices multiple listens. The more I examine the music, the more depth I realize to be there. Upon my first listening session with this album, all of the tracks had a tendency to stick together like sheets of paper with glue. They all maintain similar beats and on the whole carry very similar industrial and melancholic atmospheres. For the purpose of this very in depth review, I will be taking an individual look at the tracks presented on Welcome to the Wild Side with the intention of stripping away the album compilation and just examining these tracks on their own merits. The true test of an albums quality ultimately comes when we examine individual songs and see how they impact us. There are no doubt some tracks present that we will be more likely to run to with some immediacy (these are called “singles”), but other tracks on this album are also worth taking a few looks as well.
Track 1 – Youth
The opening track “Youth” stands as one of this EP’s singles according to Wolfcolony’s website. As such, there is an immediate expectation that the track will be one of the standouts on the album, and be particularly accessible to a mainstream audience. This is very much the truth, as it does stand out as one of the more catchy tunes on the album. The pulsing piano paired with a fairly standard drum beat motivates the music to go forth, and the vocal stylings paired with lyrics like “We could be strength, if you want to. We could be sanctuary, if you want to. Yeah we’re young we’re young forever, and we’ll always be together” elevate the track to new heights and invoke some 80’s and 90’s pop band influence, particularly from The Cure who seemingly write straightforward yet enticing and, again, accessible lyrical content. This track is immediately a noteworthy highlight of the album, and we’ve only just begun.
Track 2 – Pretenders
This is easily one of my favorite tracks on this album. It comes paired with a unique lead synth paired with some piano and heavy hitting synth bass lines. The best moment(s) of this track come when Wolf sings the choral section “Let’s not pretend anymore, let’s not pretend anymore” with a vocal style that reminds me heavily of a number of relaxed, chill out, styled surf rock tracks. It has this sweeping and swelling sensation, and is really used as a catalyst to return back to the verses, which in themselves are also memorable and of a particularly high quality.
Track 3 – Holy
“Holy” is another beautiful track and showcases that there are a number of excellent tracks on Welcome to the Wild Side. This track calls to mind musical acts such as MGMT who at points in their own music have composed tracks comparable to this. The way the chorus in “Holy” is showcased as well as the lyrical content here again is just excellent and extremely catchy.
Track 4 – Calling
By this track on the album, I am beginning to yearn for a little more in terms of melodic instrument leads. This EP is heavy on rhythm, but I do feel that more could be done with some lead instruments. Be it an occasional synth riff or perhaps even the infusion of some delay and reverb effected clean guitar. As it is, this is not a bad track by any means, but it is a little weak in my mind. The major reason for this is because the vocal melody is not as catchy, and at pivotal moments a little bit irritating. The repeated lyrical verse/bridge segment (“Shedding a light on a throne, who is a king and who’s no one Shedding a light on a throne, who is a king and who’s no one”) also bothers me both in terms of it’s content and presentation. Fortunately, the chorus makes up for this and still allows the track to be listenable for me, but the entirety of the song is a bit weak when compared to the tracks that come before it.
Track 5 – Dark & Moody
While “Calling” felt a little weak, “Dark & Moody” is very intriguing because it seems to bring a new vocal style that, frankly, reminded me of some of Linkin Park’s early industrial work. This is true both in terms of melodic content as well as the vocal style. The incorporation of some synth strings adds a bit of grandiosity, and the snare hits on the drum are particularly chilling in how they reverberate out into the galaxy. As the title might imply, this is also one of the darker and more depressive tracks on the album. It is chilling and beautiful. Well worth the listen.
Track 6 – Beauty
“Beauty” is a good track, but nothing about it really stands out in my mind. It is a rather straightforward love song with great choral sections, but little more. By this point in the album, one thing I would have loved to hear would be more diversity in the drum department. Almost every track on this album incorporates a fairly standard looping beat, and while in some ways this works in a cold, industrial way; it does not allow the music to evolve (in terms of drum content anyways) when the beats remain fairly constant throughout. Indeed, they are functional beats. At times very enjoyable when paired with the other instruments and vocals, but on their own lack that oomph one would expect from a drum in music.
Track 7 – Hollowood
Welcome to the Wild Side ends on a very positive note with “Hollowood.” For an album of subdued and distant songs, this is perhaps the most. It’s lyrical content makes a fairly straightforward but well played political statement as it pertains to a materialistic lifestyle and the overall nature of Hollywood. Lyrics like those contained in the first verse give an idea of what to expect: “Your heart is a mess.
But you still look pretty in your dress. In your dress. It doesn’t matter how you feel.
As long as you maintain your sex appeal.” The piano segments on this track standout as they serve both a rhythmic purpose as well as a leading melodic nature. Throughout the verses especially we are treated to distant piano melodies that in essence are haunting to the core. Pairing this with heavily reverberated vocal stylings, and the track without a doubt feels comfortably distant, but remains consistently accessible to those who are listening. It is certainly a great way to end the EP. Not with a loud bang, but a duly noted whisper.
Wolfcolony’s debut EP Welcome to the Wild Side is, in the least, an interesting collection of pop friendly yet melancholic industrial music. My overall thoughts on the album are very positive, though I have found myself critiquing each track more and more as I continue listening with the mindset that I am meant to critique the music. However, as I take a step back and realize that your average listener is not going to be going through each track with a pencil and paper, it is difficult to deny that the musical production by Wolf and Neal Sarin is going somewhere positive. I say this for a few major reasons: 1. I enjoy this music. I am not really one who is into a lot of pop friendly music, but the atmosphere conveyed by a majority of these tracks is ominous. There is a melancholic density that I only tend to hear in lesser-known genres like neo-folk. In some senses, it is soothing to here music that is both relaxed and depressive. Not particularly angst ridden, so it is an approachable form of sadness. 2. The production values are high, as well as the compositional skills on the whole. I highlighted a few lower points on the album during my individual track analysis, but there is no denying that this artist shares some creative mentality with the likes of The Postal Service and MGMT; yet is able to carve his own little niche. 3. It is pop friendly, without being sugar coated in blandness and happiness. Of course, this isn’t pop in the sense that Michael Jackson or Britney Spears are pop artists, but for those who enjoy a good dosage of indie rock with a pop sensibility, Wolfcolony fits in there pretty well. Again I return to the word “accessible” when it comes to describing this music. It is not complex like a classical piece of music like those developed by Bach or Brahms, nor is it as dull as just a simple album of piano and vocals. There are ups and downs throughout these tracks, and the highest highs come during the choruses of each song, which are in themselves extremely catchy and well written. For the choral sections alone, I am sold. I’ve embarrassingly enough found myself humming along to a few of them.
Here I am at the end of listening to this EP after multiple spins through multiple sound sources (laptop speakers, high quality desktop speakers, and studio headphones), and I am convinced that this album is unique. The tracks are pleasurable, and this is further heightened when paired with beautiful imagery and an aesthetic front that is part cold and part warm. Just about every artist photograph to be found of Wolfcolony (on his website) emphasizes light in otherwise black and white photos. The dark hues are a cold front, and this sensation competes with the bright light, which invokes some sense of warmth over it all. These do not seem to be just silly aesthetic choices when we consider the actual music which is, on the surface, cold and industrial; yet put together with great professional production values to become something warm and bass heavy on the ears. At the end of the day, I would recommend this album if any prior descriptions appeal to you. If you enjoy indie artists like The Postal Service, you may find this album to resonate with you. Granted, it is not perfect, but as an introductory effort and an EP, it showcases the power that Wolfcolony has over sound and aesthetic reasoning; and is likely representative of the good things we can expect from this artist in the future. While Wolf and company says, “Welcome to the Wild Side” with this album, I would personally recommend getting up and taking a walk there as well. Maybe even listen to this album on your MP3 player while you take that journey.
Recommended tracks include: “Holy,” “Dark & Moody,” and “Youth.”
You can get the EP for free via their website here.