We Were 21 In ‘03
e Were 21 In ‘03 is San Diego-based indie band Wilderness Survival’s third album in as many years, and at 50 minutes is also their longest. That they manage to squeeze 21 tracks into that running time negates any worries that Nick Grosvenor and Shane Reed have suddenly gone epic on us, though; the songs are just as pithy and tuneful as you’d expect from previous outings, there are just more of them.
Recorded on a Mac while Nick was living on his brother’s couch in LA, We Were 21 In ‘03 pushes their sound further out into directions previously hinted at: electronic, funk, hip-hop, and more are all explored, with the tunes all orbiting around a fulcrum of folk-tinged indie. Per usual there are copious, solipsistic, occasionally interesting, and occasionally annoying sleevenotes, juxtaposed with some beautiful, low-key photography. The band’s MySpace declares that they sound like “Rich suburban white kids that rarely get laid,” and claims their only influence is the Beatles. Neil Diamond is one of their top friends.
Opener “Striplings,” which the sleeve informs us was finished first, features a close approximation of the riff from “If” by the Bluetones, recontextualized over blooming bass and a lazy, Beck-esque song structure. It gives a good indication of what’s to follow: “Parliaments” deploys some busy Plaid-esque synth work atop some funk and lots of hip-hop, while “The Young Lads” is a rumination on childhood that falls into subdued and emotive strings and pianos, and ADHD strings float over a lazy synthetic beat and dark synth pipes in “Nocturnal State of Mind.”
Elsewhere the album takes in full-on electropop (“mpc 1000”), country brevity (“I Got An Addiction”), and white boy hip-hop (“Low Carb Beer”). Highlights include “Sleight of Hand”’s cheeky rimshots, skew-whiff riffs, and sexy backing vocals, and “Tomorrow Will Be Today,” which is a fractured, odd pop song shot through with beautiful, classic songwriter piano runs that fall between electrical beats, muffled conversations, chimes, and interference.
Summery, spacious, impassioned but burnt into irreverence, We Were 21 In ‘03 sees Wilderness Survival perhaps becoming a touch too easily distracted in their efforts to be eclectic; songs break down halfway through, interrupted by conversations, mistakes, answer-phone messages, and an array of other interlocutors, before they reconvene and find a conclusion, often some distance from where they began.
We Were 21 is cheekily ambitious and almost succeeds at everything it attempts. Grosvenor and Reed seem to be trying out every kind of pop imaginable just to see what they all taste like; predictably the process is pleasant, if occasionally sickly, but the end result is a certain bloatedness and clamor for something more Spartan. Nothing here is quite as beautiful or touching as “Burn Me Where I Sleep” or “Enchantment Under the Sea” from the duo’s excellent second album, Pisces Throne Heir He’s Rising, and occasionally Grosvenor’s so-sincere-it-becomes-ironic persona seems almost to undo his readily apparent charm. But still, Wilderness Survival’s enthusiasm and craft are always pleasurable, even if their timing and delivery are sometimes awry.