Tuesday, September 20, 2016

Wild World | Bastille

You know, we don't know much about Bastille's Dan Smith other than the fact that he's much like us: his Twitter account doubles as a source for Bastille updates and an outlet for his love of Frank Ocean and Jillian Banks, self-disparaging humor is kind of his thing, and he really enjoys the cinema. He's never been a Taylor Swift type of personal storyteller: on Bastille's first outing of original material, he held onto a respectable vagueness in musical references to his life as he employed emotional metaphors of ancient mythology and retro popular culture. For the band's second album, however, he has shifted his focus to the here and now.

Wild World is a concept album of sorts that exaggerates the current state of affairs across the globe, complete with a rather cryptic Wild World Communications interactive experience that was embraced in a smaller capacity than expected for a promotional tool leading up to the album's release. Although the thematic scheme lends itself only to the cultivation of a cold, frightening view on society at first thought, the record takes the road unexpected and makes grander statements on the world through the scope of intra- and interpersonal interaction. And it through that theme that we also get a good gauge for Smith's emotional intelligence – something we knew he had all along but he tended to downplay the first time around.

With that in mind, perhaps it's most important to listen to this record with the lyrics of "Warmth" in mind: "Hold me in this wild, wild world / 'cause in your warmth, I forget how cold it can be." Or maybe better, with a similar ideal to the opening lines of the album's lead single: "Watching through my fingers." After all, these tracks are fueled on a fascination with human reaction to an explicit, dominant society, leading to an album that, while an ambitious 19 tracks long, is one of the most conceptually focused in recent history. Social commentary isn't anything new in popular music, but Bastille took on the concept with ambitious goals – and they fulfill those goals through tracks disguised as same old Bastille at surface level.

Of course, the horrific society of Wild World is based on our reality today, spiked with an extra dose of dystopian ideals through the magnification of overexposure to violence, crime, and tragedies in both popular and news media. (Regardless of overall concept, it wouldn't be a Bastille album without some tragedy in the mix, anyway.) While I'm inclined to believe that film dialogue samples were scattered across the album based on Smith's aforementioned liking for film, I believe those samples inadvertently enhance the album's concept, emphasizing the pervasiveness of the media.

On the sonic front, Bastille continues to do what they do best: alternative rock products with pop intentions. Man, do these guys know how to come out of the woodwork with some unbelievable choruses, ranging from surprisingly expansive ("Good Grief," "Send Them Off!") to unexpectedly captivating ("An Act of Kindness," "Fake It," "Four Walls"). Granted, they do lack a sense of conciseness here, giving way to tracks that could have been given some more tender loving care. Most noticeably, in the case of underwhelming melody lines, they throw out a new element to distract listeners; on "The Currents" and "Snakes," it's the newfound reliance on guitars and on "Lethargy," it's the rat-ta-tat of a peppy little drum. I would argue, though, that with an album of this size, areas of redundancy, while not inexcusable, should be expected.

Consider the album like a cake: Smith and the guys were so worried about extraordinary decorations that they forgot to ensure the cake itself baked all the way through before frosting it. It's the same issue that Coldplay, the band that Bastille has been long vetted to replace when Chris Martin decides to throw in the towel, has been slammed with. But as was the case on most of Coldplay's albums, the frosting is the best part here, so a few gooey parts of the cake can be endured for the greater good. I suppose those half-baked portions would represent a bigger problem in an album that isn't smart, but Smith is a ponderer. And through these tracks, he begs that we all become ponderers, too.

Wild World is out now under Capitol Records.

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