Wilderness is giving Lungfish a run for their money for the title of Charm City's most enigmatic band. The band played and recorded collectively in their hometown of Baltimore for years without releasing a recording or playing a single show; constantly scrapping and refining material all the while, until they compiled the tracks that comprised their eponymous Jagjaguwar debut. The band rode a wave of reverb into a maelstrom of PiL comparisons and critical accolades. Singer James Johnson was a polarizing element, as his post-Lydon vocals ruffled a lot of feathers, but the band was still able to solidify a spot on many a year-end top ten list. The following year brought Vessel States, the follow-up that seemed like so many cast-offs from their debut. A short tour promoting the second release followed and soon the men of Wilderness faded into the background once more.
2008 found the band returning to the performance stage as part of last year's Whitney Biennial. At the behest of Charles Long and the arts collective Curious Notch, Wilderness composed and performed a single forty-one minute piece known as (k)no(w)here to accompany video projections 'overseen' by Long. Jagjaguwar has subsequently released (k)no(w)here as a recorded piece, but subdivided into eight obliquely named parts. Any way you slice it, the music is indisputably Wilderness. If you are put off by Johnson's vocals, record number three won't make you a believer, even if the Whitney is backing it. I find him in fine form, personally, even if he still sounds very much like John Lydon with Downs Syndrome. It's an acquired taste, much like the robot dance Johnson performs for the duration of most live sets, but you'll find that you quickly become addicted.
There are some interesting eventualities in the Wilderness franchise this time around. Vocals are normally monopolized by Johnson, but (k)no(w)here adds the vocal stylings of guitarist Colin McCann on two tracks, perhaps owing to McCann's newly released solo project The Lord Dog Bird. McCann weighs in alternately with gospel-like wailing and primal histrionics. The added vocals expand the sound nicely and the contrast might actually make Wilderness a fair bit more palatable to people that are more taken with the instrumental fare here. The band is exceptional when they stretch out. McCann's clean guitar textures dovetail masterfully with drummer Will Goode and subsonic throbber Brian Gossman. None of the players overstate their parts or overstay their welcome; songs and arrangements definitely come first. Think Explosions In The Sky covering PiL with one guitarist playing both the parts.
(k)no(w)here is a heady, engrossing sound. The record isn't as consistent as their debut, but it's a fair shade better than 2006's Vessel States. If history is any indication, Wilderness will slip into another hiatus after their late November tour. Their periods of inactivity are known to be lengthy, so you would do well to check out Wilderness while you can.