If Devil Whale frontman Brinton Jones learned anything from writing the band’s 2008 album Like Paraders, it is that airing out personal issues and delving deep into the heart of dysfunctional relationships yield big returns. But the permanence of love, and the lack thereof, is unsustainable; and while a listening audience may receive momentary catharsis through emotional identification, playing those songs every night can be draining. Young Wives, on the other hand, roars out of the gates with something that is infinitely communicated: a general frustration and pointed angst towards the malaise of the American culture, political, and religious landscape. While not totally untethered from the romantic melancholy of Like Paraders, Young Wives represents a lunar step forward in Jones’ songwriting and the band’s newfound openness to experimentation and instrumentation, while remaining grounded in classic rock sensibilities. Repeated listens offer greater rewards than any of the band’s previous work.
On paper, Young Wives seems like it could fly apart at any second. A stylistic expansion, an about-face in lyrical content, an attempt to incorporate diverse instrumentation while playing looser than they ever before—all of this crowded beneath the backyard wedding tent of a six song EP. Young Wives is centrifugal in scope, keeping all the spinning plates fixed at an unmoving center by an abundance of incredible hooks. Hooks. The Devil Whale have got ‘em. And while the hooks on Young Wives are tantalizing moments of pop melodic brilliance, they are often too huge to reel in. They drag the listener, almost unwittingly, into the heavy undercurrent of a composition like “TV Zoo” in which a swirling woodwind section and Rhodes piano make grand overtures to artists as diverse as Lou Reed and Efterklang. Moments like these, are wholly unexpected, and ensure residual returns because of the steady foundations of classic instrumentation and wide-eyed experimentation Young Wives is built on.
Aiming a more refined sphere musically, Brinton Jones’s lightly twanged, gravelly voice (sounding like Ryan Adams before he became a parody of himself) and songwriting corral everything into a fluid, moving composition. Characteristically subdued, Jones’ AM-Gold voice makes his vocal-chord shredding audible on the bluesy chorus “Barracudas”. A much-needed burner on an EP full of gorgeous, fully formed songs. Jones’ songwriting is at its best when he decides to bunt rather than go for the grand slam. His sparse phrases that rely on subtext more than description pull more emotional weight than his clown-car jamming of nouns and last-verse desperation in songs like “TV Zoo” and “Barracudas”. While overly verbose at times, these moments don’t come often, and in this case a swing and a miss is more admirable than playing it safe would have been.
Young Wives, although relatively short, is informed by a pedigree of albums produced in the late 1960s-1970s that were meticulous in their exploration of sound. This weekend, I found myself on a long drive with nothing but a Journey three-disc compilation to listen to. While being completely eye-rolling at times, I couldn’t help make similarities between early Journey songs and The Devil Whale, not that they sound anything alike. Listening to those songs I began thinking, “man, they don’t make songs like these anymore”, songs with meticulous attention to detail and space enough to fill with handclaps, oboes, group sing-alongs, and bottomless instrumentation. The Devil Whale makes those songs. Don’t stop believing.
1. The End (Isn't Coming)
3. TV Zoo
6. Patent Boots