Every now and then, an album will come along that seems to catch an entire community of music listeners off guard. These albums generally upend scene conventions by intentionally chasing a different sound, choosing to stand out from the pack rather than follow it.
With Clouded, This Wild Life have crafted one of the most unique, delightful, heartbreaking and unexpectedly inviting albums of 2014.
Kevin Jordan and Anthony Del Grosso are no strangers to the punk scene, although their music couldn’t sound further from it upon first listen. The duo signed to Epitaph Records, a label synonymous with punk, to release a collection of delicate acoustic songs about love, hope and loss.
In truth, abandoning the expected output from such a label is about as punk as it gets. The songs on Clouded beg to be heard and enjoyed – not labeled or pigeonholed – and are certainly crafted in such a way as to be enjoyed by just about everyone.
It’s no surprise to learn that Copeland frontman Aaron Marsh manned the production duties on Clouded. The band’s soft touch for crafting quiet, reflective tracks mirrors that of Marsh’s. Many of the album’s songs wouldn’t sound out of place on Beneath Medicine Tree.
While the sonic presentation of the album is beautiful, it’s Jordan’s knack for crafting melodies that make this listen such a pleasure. Album opener, “Concrete”, starts with the painful lines, “I’ve got feet like concrete and a head like lead / God, I feel so empty, I give up and head home”. While the content is heavy, Jordan’s singing is light and contains a dash of hope, shining a bit of beauty amidst the pain.
This is a recurring theme throughout Clouded. Lead single, “History”, is a cutting break-up song about the guts it takes to walk away from years of memories. To hear Jordan sing these words is an experience of a different and unexpected kind of catharsis. Perhaps time does heal all wounds. Perhaps there is a calm after the storm.
While the obvious comparison between This Wild Life and early-Dashboard Confessional is somewhat appropriate, it ignores a key point in presentation. While Chris Carrabba’s early work gushed with painful notes and sadness, This Wild Life have crafted their songs in a way that emphasizes hopeful expectation and joy that exists beyond the pain of brokenness. In a way, both of these dig at different nerves while addressing the same subject matter.
Songs like “No More Bad Days” and “Looking Back” even resort to outright positivity and a determination to overcome. It’s almost impossible to sing along without a smile on your face.
For a scene riddled with angst and frustration-filled break-up songs, it’s refreshing to hear a new and brighter take on the subject. Clouded is bouncy, folky and full of energy, even as it seeks to cope with difficult and frustrating issues. It finds originality amidst common themes and well-worn styles.
This Wild Life will be playing Vans Warped Tour all summer long, assuredly gaining new fans every step of the way. This is a great starting point, but it’s hard to imagine this band not extending its reach much, much further in the very near future.
by Kiel Hauck
Kiel Hauck is the editor in chief at It’s All Dead. Over the past decade, he has been a contributor for multiple online and print publications and was most recently an editor at PopMatters. Kiel currently resides in Indianapolis, IN with his wife and their imaginary pet, Hand Dog. You can follow him on Twitter.