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Wild Rivers - Sidelines (Album Review)

Wednesday, 16 February 2022 Written by Simon Ramsay

Photo: Samuel Kojo

Sooner or later the penny drops for all of us. It’s the moment we realise safe, comfortable and easily understood childhood notions of right and wrong, black or white, are pure fiction. This is a messy, random and very grey world where absolutes don’t exist and complexities abound. When the truth dawns that we’re responsible for navigating our way through such a tangled web, fear can destroy us. If we let it.

Six years since Wild Rivers released their self-titled debut, Devan Glover (vocals), Khalid Yassein (guitar/vocals) and Andrew Oliver (guitar/bass) have  returned with a record that builds on that promising bow. Having grown as songwriters, musicians and people in the interim, ‘Sidelines’ is a thematically tight, personal album, with a stronger sense of purpose and character than its predecessor.

With an almost dreamlike quality to the fore, these slow-burning songs focus on being stuck in an enforced holding pattern, either emotionally or literally, while striving to make peace with the past and summon up the strength to move forwards.

When Glover and Yassein sing “the more I learn, the less I know about it” on the opening track, the search for solutions, no matter how imperfect, has begun.

Writing about such a transformative coming of age period could have made for a depressing listen. Yet, there’s no wallowing here, nor is there a sense of hopelessness. Most importantly, ‘Sidelines’ isn’t a slow-paced, sparse, claustrophobic record that screams ‘woe is me.’   

While emotional battles, ranging from formative young love (Neon Stars) and tempestuous relationships (Better When We’re Falling Apart) to loss of innocence (the whole album) set the scene, the songs always work towards developing a coping strategy, even if that simply means adopting the kind of post-heartbreak patience and acceptance Glover embodies on the achingly candid Long Time.  

That mature narrative quest, which features fitting references to vehicles throughout, gives these tunes a forward-thinking momentum that’s matched by the band’s newly expanded, genre-fluid palette. Branching out from route one, commercial modern folk, albeit with Glover and Khalid’s shared vocals still centre stage, glossy indie and retro-pop rhythms and textures give Stubborn Heart, Weatherman and Bedrock propulsive, upbeat drive.

On top of that, the record’s melodies are so soothing that they sound like breathing in positive energy and exhaling negative static into the ether.  Delivering consistently charming, mellifluous pop-flavoured hooks, Untouchable, Amsterdam and spine-tingling weepie Safe Flight subtly suggest all is not lost, regardless of what the present moment feels like.

What’s most pleasing about this sophomore record, though, is how the band have forged a more unique identity for themselves than on their generic, albeit well-executed, debut. That said, vocal anonymity remains an issue.  Glover and Yassein can sing and harmonise to perfection, but they don’t have particularly recognisable voices that boast the strong personality, either individually or collectively, you hear from bands such as The Civil Wars.  

In order for Wild Rivers to stand out from what’s become a very crowded scene, they need to address this issue. If they can do that, maintain their impressive evolution, and keep writing heartfelt and relatable songs of this calibre, there’s no reason they shouldn’t come off the sidelines to assume a starring role in the not too distant future.

Wild Rivers Upcoming Tour Dates are as follows:

Fri May 06 2022 - DUBLIN Workmans Club
Sat May 07 2022 - CORK Winthrop Avenue
Mon May 09 2022 - LONDON Oslo
Tue May 10 2022 - MANCHESTER Night & Day
Wed May 11 2022 - LONDON Oslo
Sat May 14 2022 - BRISTOL Louisiana

Compare & Buy Wild Rivers Tickets at Stereoboard.com.


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