Given the amount of new music that floods into the world each week, there’s something to be said for a resilient “sleeper” album. I refer to a record that arrives with minimal fanfare, and yet lingers near the top of your most-played music for weeks, and then months. That album for me in the first quarter of 2017 was the self-titled full-length debut by Brooklyn trio Wild Pink. Even as big-tent releases by superstars have come and gone, Wild Pink has remained a consistent listen.
Led by singer-songwriter John Ross, a 30-year-old Florida native who moved to Brooklyn after college to be a film composer — he currently makes a living by writing music for commercials — Wild Pink is stubbornly un-flashy in its approach on mediative, mostly mid-tempo and yet indelibly cinematic indie-rock. Never deviating from a simple guitar-bass-drums instrumental attack, Wild Pink wrests a surprising amount of melody and even drama out of Ross’s dreamy, story-oriented songs.
Similar to the slower numbers on early National albums such as Alligator and Boxer, Ross’s tunes work on an almost subliminal level, not fully revealing themselves until the fifth (or fifteenth) listen. At that point, incisive lyrics that sound like repurposed snippets of real-life dialogue begin drift out of the haze. Together, they comprise a song cycle about young urbanites living in the shadow of national tragedies, past and present. “On 9/11 your mom took you to see Legally Blonde,” Ross sings on the last track, “They Hate Our Freedom,” astutely summarizing the rush to normalize even the most extraordinary of events. In “Battle Of Bedford Falls,” Ross contemplates an aloof companion amid a cultural meltdown: “Keep your eyes on your smart phone / while we circle the same drain / good guys with guns are digging ditches in cap and gown / and American Idols are engineering the perfect moment.”
When reached by phone recently, Ross was reluctant to discuss his evocative though somewhat elusive songs too thoroughly. For instance, I wondered if one of my favorite tracks, the quietly startling “Albert Ross,” was about the death of a family member. (“I really don’t mind the time alone / I dreamed about you last night / And you were sweet but you were sick / You drink your dad’s hangover now.”) While Ross allowed that the song title derives from his great-grandfather, he declined to divulge any other details. “I like to keep it up to interpretation,” he said. “I hope that’s not rude.” So, we talked instead about commercials.