Like any good secret, by now the whole world knows of Wild Child. The Austin alt-darlings have exploded from obscurity in the span of three albums by walking a fine line between Folk, Indie, and Americana. In blending the best aspects of each into an immediately identifiable, unique vision of what popular, organic music can be the group has had immense success at drawing an audience from a variety of such marginalized genres.
While the current roster swells at seven members, the idea behind Wild Child was built upon lead singers Alexander Beggins and Kelsey Wilson. Early results were staggering. Their first work, 2011’s Pillow Talk featured little more than Wilson’s fiddle and Beggin’s uke. The duo sang songs closer to lullabies than anything heard on the radio, and the sparse but exacting recordings by the versatile and inimitable Evan Magers gave the album a rough beauty akin to an unpolished pearl. Equally alluring was the lyrical subject matter. Though the couple often harmonized their real strength was exposed across tracks like “I’ll Figure You Out,” where the humdrum hard luck love life narrative so overdone in the pop market received attention from both the male and female points of view simultaneously in an eloquent, intimate musical argument.
But more than this, the group explored all the depths of youth culture without the inclusion of a single guitar. Sophomore effort The Runaround was comparable to the Beatles in that Wild Child could be rocking without actually rocking. Songs like “Crazy Bird” or titular inclusion “The Runaround” were angsty and antagonistic, while some few tracks later on “Rillo Talk” the audience would be lulled into the sweet, soothing melodies and gentle maternal nature implicit in any romantic endeavor.
Just as Wild Child’s atypical blending has defied genre, their latest effort Fools spurns the formula that has made them so successful thus far. But it’s done to a fault. Beggins is almost entirely removed which gives Wilson’s talent the spotlight. Her voice is sweet, melodious, and carries a depth of emotion most mere vocalist can only imitate. Wilson is enchanting, and very much deserves to be at the forefront of a project, just not this one. Without Beggins in the mix, much of the tension that made Wild Child so dynamic has been lost on Fools.
Stasis is death, and the fact Wild Child hasn’t sat on their laurels allowing a formula that has worked so well to spool out across another album is admirable. Fools is by no means done poorly. Songs like “Bullets” or the continuing play on themes “Trillo Talk,” just scream for national exposure via radio play. The production, too, has evolved beyond lo-fi indie-pop enthusiasts to world class engineering. Lush arrangements and perfectly placed string sections give the project a touch of class and grace while so many of their peers are still struggling with how to best dumb down the recording process in vain attempts at genre authenticity.
For better or worse, Fools is a fine product by an ambitious group of talented young musicians. Their club days of underground fame are over, and now Wild Child is on the cusp of national prominence. It’s doubtful whether Fools will disappoint long time fans as much as it will garner new attention from a wider audience.