As the release date for La Dispute’s sophomore album, Wildlife, was approaching, I was almost dreading having to write a review for the record. It is nearly impossible to put what this album is into words. Almost three years after their debut full length, Somewhere at the Bottom of the River Between Vega and Altair, La Dispute have returned with what is arguably the best album of 2011. Normally I would go through an album, mention the songs that are great, and those that are not, but with Wildlife, a review of that fashion would drag on far too long. Instead, I will divide this review into two sections: musicianship and vocals/lyrics.
Musically, Wildlife is a powerful force. As the opening number, “a Departure”, begins, the twangy sounding guitars lead into a more conventional guitar riff, backed by La Dispute’s impressive percussion section, brought to us by Brad Vanger Lugt. The opening guitar line that plays throughout “St. Paul Missionary Baptist Church Blues” sounds catchier than most of La Dispute’s work. Although it is mainly the same riff throughout the entire track, it never seems repetitive or boring. The consistent build ups in “a Letter” sounds suspenseful with each one, and between each build up, the guitar work of Chad Sterenberg and Kevin Whittemore shines greatly. As the epic “King Park” reaches its last two minutes, Vanger Lugt’s shows off his chops once again, as his pounding drums add the greatest element to musical side of the track. To close off the musicianship section, Adam Vass ‘ bass lines provide an integral part in Wildlife. Although the bass may go unnoticed from time to time, Vass’ contribution to tracks like “a Letter” are one of the main reasons why the track stands out. Along with all the great musicianship, La Dispute has added small noises in the background of many tracks, which adds an additional element to the already fantastic music. Whether it is the chirping sound in “a Poem”, the wooden noise maker in “King Park”, or the high pitched whistling noise in “Edward Benz, 27 Times.”
On the other side of La Dispute is vocalist/lyricist Jordan Dreyer. Vocally, his performance is what a fan of the band would expect. His sing-speak method of vocal delivery works wonders to accompany his lyrics, while his screaming abilities come in handy during the more intense moments of Wildlife. The biggest improvement to Dreyer’s vocals on the bands sophomore record would be his control. While at times on Somewhere…. Dreyer’s vocals would come across as overly schizophrenic or melodramatic, this time around, the vocalist has found the perfect balance. There are still moments where that schizophrenic quality kicks in, but the moments where it does happen on Wildlife are used in a more advantages way than on the group’s debut.
As far as lyrics go, Wildlife has some of the best we’ve seen this year. While La Dispute’s debut contained mostly lyrics about heartbreak and relationships, Wildlife focuses more on a narrative direction, with Dreyer writing from the outside. Many of the lyrics on Wildlife could be enjoyed as a short story or poem, not only as the words to a song. The greatest examples of Dreyer’s incredible lyricism would be on the back-to-back-to-back combination of “King Park”, “Edward Benz, 27 Times”, and “I See Everything.” In 2011, there are very few other lyrics that can evoke as much emotion as those three tracks.
With Wildlife, La Dispute have topped all their previous work, and then some. The lyrics and vocals have improved tenfold from the group’s debut. The musicianship is great and complements Dreyer’s style perfectly. The levels of emotion that can be felt while listening to Wildlife, with the lyrics right in front of you, is something very rare in this time. La Dispute have released the most intense, most impressive, and most emotional record of 2011.
Wildlife is available October 4th, via No Sleep Records.
1. a Departure
2. Harder Harmonies
3. St. Paul’s Missionary Baptist Church Blues
4. Edit Your Hometown
5. a Letter
6. Safe In the Forest/Love Song For Poor Michigan
7. The Most Beautiful Bitter Fruit
8. a Poem
9. King Park
10. Edward Benz, 27 Times
11. I See Everything
12. a Broken Jar
13. all our bruised bodies and the whole heart shrinks
14. You and I In Unison
Standout Tracks: King Park, Edward Benz, 27 Times, I See Everything