Hello again! Katie here. It’s “Purple Friday” at my school which is actually a pretty cool admissions event where I get to meet a bunch of prospective students who sit in on a class. But I’ll be honest, for me, it’s ALWAYS a reason to celebrate The Purple One. So I am rockin’ my Prince shirt, purple glitter shoes, purple temporary hair dye, and a purple glitter cane (…that’s more of a permanent change: I’m becoming a Wes Anderson character…). It’s purple in here this Friday. And glittery. And that’s actually a perfect way to introduce you to our new band!
While it might sound crazy, Wilder Maker sounds like summer in bloom or a dying fall, depending on the track, both of which evoke memories of such bright colors here in the Midwest. And glitter? Well, wait until you hear the guitar.
Wilder Maker is a powerhouse of talent— a band formed in Brooklyn that has released records with both Saddle Creek (heeeey Bright Eyes fans! I see you there!), and Northern Spy Records, as well as being critically acclaimed since their formation in 2014. The band consists of Gabriel Birnbaum (songwriting, guitar, and vocals), Katie Von Schleicher (keyboards, guitar, vocals), Nick Jost (bass), Sean Mullins (drums) and Adam Brisbin (guitar)— and you can really hear how important it is to have so many people on guitar and vocals, because every single song builds to a fever pitch, and it’s essential that they be able to layer, not just on the records, but live.
They’ve certainly captured that vibey indie sound, but the combo of Katie Von Schleicher and Gabriel Birnbaum’s voices plus the nature of Gabriel’s songwriting evokes something else I usually call “dream pop”. The songs are haunting and moved forward by driving percussion but they take you somewhere else, sometimes quite literally, while you’re listening to them.
Take “Only Child” for instance. It’s certainly a summer song, but as the guitar and percussion glitter their way in, you aren’t really prepared for all of the contrast. Von Schleicher has a beautiful, deep voice— strong, not breathy— and the lyrics provide a contrast to the summery feeling. Sure, we’re getting flowers blooming but we’re also getting dying leaves. It becomes even more important when Birnbaum’s voice comes in to complement and combine with hers. The contradiction makes sense - the song is addressed to a “sister” - but there is no sister. So you get a summer pop song— but only if you aren’t really listening. The first verse—
Was the season of sweat run
The paint that chipped off the window fell down like snow
Ice cream on the porch swing
Sky so wide I am falling, forever far gone
—uses so much “cold” imagery, you really only get summer in that guitar. That’s where the sheen is almost a trick. A necessary one. When the chorus kicks off, and their voices combine, it’s pure magic, and the lyrics— contrasting so many major chords and such joyful percussion— are stunning.
Night when I knelt, my heart was a blank
When the cool sheets touched me, I shivered and fell back
Stay up too late, the world on my screen
I know you're doin' the same
Sister it's me, sister it's me
And I was an only child, I was an only child
So when the second verse starts with Birnbaum’s voice— which has a bit of a Mark Knopfler tone to it— saying, “Come back as a grown man,” it’s not jarring as much as it is a comfort. We need to hear from both of these people. One of Wilder Maker’s strongest assets is that they don’t waste any space: look at how clean the lyrics are, pared down to the bone. There aren’t any wasted articles or even really many conjunctions. It’s hard nouns and verbs, exquisite in their ability to create action and movement without cluttering up the song.
Then take songs like “New Streets,” which admittedly takes you on a trip. The first part, the guitar riff that calls and returns, is so clear and clean that you can hear Von Schleicher’s voice almost as if she’s sitting next to you. The second verse, which is a little more honest, is punctuated with horns, and builds to one of the most impressive scenes in a song I’ve heard in a while: she sings “Call it a lie, call it a lie, I don’t mind,” over and over, but then jumps an octave, and Birnbaum backs her up— there’s really no way to experience it without actually listening to the song. It’s an intense moment. By the end of the song, the guitar is as fuzzed out as it was clean to start. But of course, with an ending like this… how could it be anything else?
We popped the shrooms on the roof
Night falls, we shake the party for the street
And suddenly all we see is so good you can't believe
The stone arch the vast park our shadows in the dark
Time casts a line back to Olmstead and Vaux
Struck dumb laughing at a bird on a pond
Call it a lie, call it a lie
I don't mind
It’s really hard to get a good description of drug usage in writing, because it always seems either exaggerated or as though people are really too sober for the piece to make sense. But by telling the experience, then negating it— and then, better yet, ending the song after the repeated, “Call it a lie,” with “And I knew I was close to the source”— it’s absolutely chilling. Because it brings this trip, this moment that may or may not have been real, into our world and experience, and the idea that there IS a source… there’s something so much more intense about the lyrics that blow off the experience, because it tells us that the speaker doesn’t need validation. That’s impressive.
And then you have songs like “Drunk Driver.” It’s got an ethereal atmosphere, and a few piano notes that haunt the guitar as it plays in. The first line is even more striking because Von Schleicher’s voice is so strong: “He lay hands on my shoulder asked me how I’d been like any fool he thought he’d be forever king.” You aren’t oriented in a setting: in fact, the atmosphere in the music has almost suspended you in space, waiting to hear what is going to happen. Andy said this song feels like Portishead, and he’s dead on. But as the picture unfolds, we get lyrics like:
The way your life disintegrates during someone’s Thursday bar shift and the band plays on
The way your life disintegrates in plain view on the dance floor to the sound of High Lifes popping
And the band plays on
I drank away the obvious truth of bodies secrets hiding sadder than you’d think
Think til reality seizured around me an innocent Thursday the worst day
An innocent Thursday the worst day of my life I’ll scatter his teeth beat him clean but an emptiness grins
And I know it’s a game I can’t win tossing turning in rage futile as a hooked fish
Stains the wood til the sun stained the sky as the fisherman smiles and he takes off the head and finally I slept
And the band plays on
The repetition of “and the band plays on,” reminds me so much of Auden’s “Musee de Beaux Arts,” in which he talks of Pieter Bruegel’s Icarus and observes that “the old masters” were the ones who got it right because it doesn’t matter what’s happened to you or what lives you’ve wrecked or had ruined. The rest of the world goes on about their lives. And the band plays on.
The song ends with, “Oh God, I loved her with no thought for me, reckless as a drunk driver turns a key.” All those devastated “Oh God” moments might not be literal prayers but they feel to me like someone wounded and crawling towards a chapel they can’t quite see. It feels dizzy and drunk and confused and that is one of the most effective things Wilder Maker does: the music either matches the lyrics so perfectly that you feel like you’re in a different world, or it contradicts them so beautifully that it’s almost like you are the one on a substance. It’s glittery. It’s sparkly. But like so many things that shine— there’s an edge, and it’s dangerous.
Wilder Maker has incredible guitars, brilliant vocals, amazing lyrics— and honestly, I hate making a list of adjectives like that. Please just listen to these songs so you know why it’s so important to make it to the Bowery Electric for Underwater Sunshine— and Wilder Maker, we’re so happy you’re joining our colorful crew.