Bristol-based independent label Howling Owl Records have been churning out some incredible releases over the past year. From the Spectres to The Naturals, the label is widely regarded as putting Bristol firmly back on the musical map. Their latest release comes from Oliver Wilde - once a shy, acoustic singer/songwriter, he's transformed himself into an electronic downer-pop forerunner that sees his debut album as one of the most anticipated to emerge from the city in recent years.
By day, he works at RISE Records - a hub of the Bristol music scene, where you'll see him welcoming customers with a huge grin and quietly passing on Elliott Smith B-sides. A Brief Introduction to Unnautral Lightyears has been a long time coming and after a series of appearances at festivals such as Fear of Fiction and Dot to Dot, it's safe to say that the excitement for this album can be well and truly felt throughout the city.
Opener 'Curve' transports us to a hazy daydream, full of repetitive electronic drums and soundscapes before Wilde tackles your demons with distorted lyrics such as "You can't admit your happy, maybe you shouldn't be" before shaking your senses, wailing "But you wouldn't know". Finishing with the same looping electronic soundscapes and drum machine kicks as the beginning, 'Curve' gently rips apart your heart before piecing it back together in a style Elliott Smith would be proud of. Unbeknownst to you, Wilde has managed to gain access to the kind of feelings you like to keep hidden; even from yourself.
Where 'Curve' leaves you silently mystified, single 'Perretts Brook' wakes you with an abrupt electronic thrash that could easily make it the indie-sleeper hit of the summer. Building up to a surge of obscure of wandering bass, synth-heavy reverbs and teamed with gut-wrenching vocals, the fragile female harmonies during the chorus make it all the more enticing. This is the kind of bedroom production you wanted after first hearing the title track from Sparklehorse's It's A Wonderful Life. The album continues in a mirage of delicate acoustic picks, reverb-fuelled drums and clever song structures, with Wilde using his unique vocals as the conductor to an album full of wandering ideas - piecing them all together to make a perfect match.
Where the first few songs evoke a somewhat blissful melancholy response, 'Marleahs Cadence' awakens every sense with its thrashing guitars, uplifting opening and an almost sing-a-long chorus; this is the 'pop hit' of the album, if you will. Eyes closed, the song takes you to a hopeful place that leaves behind the regret Wilde has conjured up through the previous tracks.
'Pinch' showcases Wilde's undeniable maturity as a songwriter. Stripped back, with only a few quiet guitars to keep his vocals company, the song proves that not much is needed when these kind of lyrics are involved. A woozy sigh of "Imagine clouds to walk upon, while you look for that special someone. Be clear on what it is you want" effortlessly produces gorgeous imagery, with its execution allowing Wilde to leave behind any sort of song writing clichés. It could be likened to early Atlas Sound or even a more stripped-back, male Warpaint.
The album continues to produce gem after gem, as each song flows perfectly onto the next. Full of repetitive, distorted instrumentation you'd think that they would all start to sound the same but Wilde has managed to craft an album of unique integrity. 'Happy Downer' opens with grating, industrial sounds that are soon smoothed out by the warmth of Wilde's vocals before album finisher 'Twin' moulds all of the albums influences into one perfect offering.
As striking as it is beautiful, on A Brief Introduction to Unnatural Light Years Oliver Wilde has crafted something truly unique. Where one song will carry you to a car, with your hand catching the wind as you drive along, another will question those emotions that were buried deep in the back of your mind long ago. So rich in it's output yet so sparing of frills and over-production, Wilde has managed to produce an album that will stand out from any genre whilst still maintaining a clear structure. Original and affecting, it's the lyrical honesty and experimentation with an array of hypnotic soundscapes that not only make this one of the most exciting debuts to come out of Bristol in a while, but one that deserves the attention of anyone that likes the sound of swooping, indie downer-pop with a melancholic euphoria.
9Sammy Maine's Score