The Republic Of Wolves

No Matter How Narrow

Written by: TL on 20/01/2014 20:36:25

With our man DR apparently in the midst of some longer disappearing act, I find myself continuing to pick up on records from last year that would have otherwise fallen under his dominion. This has brought me to The Republic Of Wolves, whose original claim to fame was that their songs were mistaken for Brand New demos for their album "Daisy", which in retrospect is perhaps amusing, seeing as the younger Long Island band's debut "Varuna" landed somewhat off the mellower end of Brand New's "Devil And God", while "Daisy" eventually ended up as that album's much angrier sibling. Regardless, I never became truly enthused by "Varuna", perhaps because one thing is getting compared to Brand New and another is to actually live up to them, but that's not the matter here. Rather the curious thing to talk about as we turn our ears on "No Matter How Narrow" is that referencing Brand New all of the sudden seems entirely irrelevant.

The background screams that were allowed to occasionally echo in the back of "Varuna" have all but been phased out on "No Matter How Narrow", and if the former album seemed mellowly introspective, the new one even feels casually contemplative in comparison, and warmer, more comfortable indie bands like Death Cab For Cutie and Copeland now jump more readily to mind as references than Brand New does. The production is voluminous and embracing, pulsating with a vibrant bass tone and with bright, carefree guitar melodies intertwining with various ambiance and glockenspiel notes. Front and centre, Mason Maggio recites the lyrics in a round, relatively tempered, indie-folk manner, occasionally soliciting responses from bassist/keyboardist Billy Duprey's comparatively lighter tone.

While the mood of "No Matter How Narrow" compares to that of "Varuna" like a warm, summery day compares to a cloudy, moonlit night though, The Republic Of Wolves retain the defining characteristics that made "Varuna" the album it was: One where you immediately realised the potential yet had a hard time feeling it fulfilled during your spins. The reason I think is that the band's compositions are so unusually, neatly layered and integrated. Constantly occupied with harmonies, the stretches where the quintet allow elements to take a pause are brief and most bars are crammed with notes from all instruments as well as vocals, either arranged up close to one another or layered melodiously on top of each other. This is elegant of course, but also at times a little too streamlined, with things persistently complimenting - never contrasting - each other, to the point where I'd hear accusations against The Republic Of Wolves for lacking dynamics.

As on "Varuna", this is a bit of a shame, because you often get the impression that The Republic Of Wolves are an interesting band lyrically, but with the pedestrian rhythms and laid back temperament, the themes still feel under-delivered to the point where it can get hard to keep your attention focused on them. When things go right, like in the dense "Stray(s)" or in "Keep Clean", you'll likely notice hints like "I couldn't get it past you /the pain that had gotten used to me /while you planted salt like seeds /in my every open wound" or "With a kind voice and a loud idea /he divided up the races with a pencil and the book of Genesis /and sorted us into companies and colonies all pitted up against each other /no matter how, no matter how common is our cause". - But with "Turning Lane" arriving late at track eight as the first proper change of pace, it's too easy to lose track of the lines while feeling like things are floating on cruise control.

The diagnosis and the verdict is hence eventually similar for "No Matter How Narrow" and "Varuna". The Republic Of Wolves continue to appear a band of promise, but not fully delivering, and you'll likely come away from the new record wishing that they would get better at identifying their strongest ideas and then give those more room to breathe in the soundscape. That and that they would maybe find a new way to let a little more danger and urgency bleed into the atmosphere, because the rare occasions of screaming still don't really fit in, and in the opposite end of the emotive spectrum, there isn't the same sort of tender frailty either, which runs right under the skin of bands like those referenced beneath here. So far though, the band remains the kind that's a little frustrating to write about even though they're good, because you keep feeling like you need to give them one more spin expecting them to get a noticeable step better.


Download: Stray(s), Keep Clean, Turning Lane
For The Fans Of: Copeland, Death Cab For Cutie, Les Sages

Release Date 17.12.2013
Simple Stereo

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