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On record, John Ross recounts intimate moments from his personal life in journalistic detail, singing in a lilting tenor that elevate anecdotes to the level of heartfelt art. Just listen to “Love Is Better,” a standout track from the forthcoming Yolk In The Fur, the beguiling new album out July 20 from Ross’ indie-heartland rock band, Wild Pink. (A new track, “Love Is Better,” debuts on Uproxx today, and you can check it out below.)
In the song, Ross sets a scene that takes place between two friends, one of whom has unrequited feelings for the other, in a local tavern. “Pick and eat Blue Crabs in a neighborhood the mob reputedly still haunts / And there’s a sweet old man at the bar with his eyes closed / Mouthing the words to Kim Carnes song on the radio.” Ross describes this dive over a pulsing synth-rock groove, which amps the evocative blend of romance and melancholy in the lyrics. While Ross’ delicate vocal doesn’t betray the quiet heartbreak that subsequently occurs, the stirring music conveys the protagonist’s bruised yet committed resolve. “Love is better than anything else,” Ross sings.
If the details of “Love Is Better” — the crustacean delicacy prevalent on the Atlantic coast, the reference to a semi-obscure ’80s pop artist — seem too specific to be made up, it’s because they’re not.
“It’s all real. The first verse about a man in a bar, that all really happened,” Ross said by phone earlier this month. “I don’t know how much I want to say about it, but there was a lot going on. Or maybe there wasn’t, and I was just projecting on it, but it seemed like this small scene in a bar had just exploded in my mind.”
As I learned in 2017 when I spoke with Ross about Wild Pink’s self-titled debut, one of the great sleeper records of that year, the 31-year-old singer-songwriter radiates unease whenever pressed about the meanings of his lyrics. Maybe it’s because he already reveals so much of himself in his songs — whereas Wild Pink unfolded as a series of dreamy short stories about millennial ennui in the wake of the 2016 presidential election, Yolk In The Fur is a musical novel that appears to document an intense romantic (or perhaps wannabe romantic) relationship. The first five songs, including the War On Drugs-like single “Lake Erie” and the panoramic jangler “Jewels Drossed In The Runoff,” tick off without any pause between the tracks, underlining the unified, song-cycle feel of the album.
Yolk In The Fur is littered with conversational asides that appear to be lifted from actual conversations. (Ross admits that he’s constantly typing potential lyrics into his phone. “It’s the only way I know how to do it, just jotting things down and massaging them into a song,” he said. “A lot of times, nothing even rhymes.”) Many of these lines are rendered with a dry wit, like that part in the simmering rocker “The Seance on St. Augustine St.” where Ross slips in a sly generational dig: “You said boomers with hepatitis / might be spitting in your drink.” Elsewhere, Ross writes about the small, forgotten moments that accumulate into life’s defining disappointments. “But you don’t have to say you love me back ,” he sings in the slashing “John Mosby Hollow Drive.” “It’s enough when you hear me out / because you’ll exhaust yourself somehow .”
On Wild Pink’s two albums, Ross is a chronic over-sharer, a habit he over-corrects in conversation whenever he’s subsequently asked to explain himself.
“Yeah, it’s ironic, isn’t it?” Ross said, a trace of a chuckle lurking behind his words. “I’m pretty timid in my personal life, and also I like to keep more of the mystery about a song. It can resonate with more people, even if it is incredibly specific.