Three years ago, Grand Rapids’ own La Dispute would release a record that spoke to many – channeling the feelings of heartbreak and separation in the form of Somewhere at the Bottom of the River Between Vega and Altair. A pseudo-concept record at heart, its lyricism and often abrasive compositions would send the five boys in La Dispute to a level of respect among their peers and fans alike. Though they kept us busy by releasing splits with friends during that time, the word of a new record has had the underground abuzz with wonders of where the Michigan quintet would take us this time. A journey of post-adolescent discovery and somber revelations about the world around us, Wildlife is truly an emotional record that reveals growth and clarity for both the listener and the creators behind it. Branching out both musically and lyrically, Wildlife finds La Dispute penning a post-hardcore record both beautiful and heart-wrenching for those willing to venture deep into its musical forest.
The most marked growth for La Dispute lies within the musical palate we hear on Wildlife. Somewhere found the band embracing their At The Drive In meets mewithoutYou pigeonholing, and while it was not bad by any means whatsoever, it left little room for variation in the catalog. Wildlife instead hears the band moving outwards from that sound, as tracks like “Harder Harmonies” and “Edward Benz, 27 Times” don’t sound far from the structures and sounds we are used to, with the former sounding like it could easily fit right in with any of the band’s previous works. Yet, the writing on Wildlife seems focused on creating buzz-filled jam-like foundations for Jordan Dreyer’s shout-sing vocal attack. “St. Paul Missionary Baptist Church Blues” relies on a cleaner guitar tone and bombastic drumming that while not as brash as the rest is just as easy to head-bob along to. Where Somewhere was often slathered in melody, “St. Paul”, like many of the more moving sections of Wildlife, drowns us in a sea of guitar strums, providing a sullen foundation for the words and smarter placed melodies we will hear. “Edit Your Hometown” and “The Most Beautiful Bitter Fruit” find the band wading into upbeat territories of power-chorded fury, while “Safer in the Forest/Love Song for Poor Michigan” brings us a catchy, yet somber melody in its mid-tempo buildup of drums and frantic lyricism. Though not a completely different sound for the band, they show a metamorphosis into musicians capable of shedding their abrasive tendencies for melodies and arrangements much more fitting for the emotions their music and lyrics bring.
That isn’t to say the band has dropped their melodic tendencies with Wildlife. Reflective of the discovering nature of the lyrics, the melodies here are filled with an often somber wonderment. “I See Everything” harnesses the band’s more abrasive tendencies but with smarter melodies that drive the musical end of things forward as the track develops into a story of hope through loss. The production of the record, which was done with no artificial reverb, wonderfully captures the emotion and tensions this record brings forward, as tracks like “Safer in the Forest/Love Song for Poor Michigan” and “all our bruised bodies and the whole heart shrinks” benefit from lush, yet simple guitar lines and sharp drumming – undoubtedly enhanced by the work done by Andrew Everding and Joe Pedulla to capture this record in honest fashion.
As for Dreyer and his synonymous vocal delivery, his lyricism here is nearly flawless – though his delivery is as unchanged as it could be. Ripe with emotion and lined with the slightest bit of gruff, his stories on Wildlife bring a range of emotions – loss, distance and uncertainty to name a few. Though the premise of Wildlife is a collection of stories with notes from the author, these writings in their delivery and poetic nature feel real – and are often unsettling and woven with self-defining questioning. “King Park” recollects the death of a child through Dreyer’s eyes as a ghost, describing the aftermath as the killer pleads ‘Can I still get into heaven if I kill myself?’, while “I See Everything” tells the story of a child who dies from cancer and how a family tries to cope with the death while keeping their faith in God and saying ‘Though I’ve felt nowhere what you have, I see nothing at all.’ “Edward Benz, 27 Times” might be the most heart-tugging of the bunch, as the line ‘When you walked through the door, did you think you’d show me your scars?’ reveals a story of a father whose mentally-ill son nearly kills him. Though certainly not as relatable as the subject matters presented in prior writings, Dreyer’s words are not deplete of emotion or passion by any means.
Not everything is quite as heavy though, with “The Most Beautiful Bitter Fruit” contemplating self-discovery and connection and “Edit Your Hometown” hearing Dreyer fret over the dissipation of prior friendships via geographical relocation. Record ending pair “all our bruised bodies and the whole heart shrinks” and “You and I in Unison” bring the record full-circle in an ever-questioning fashion. The former finds an outpouring of questions and pleadings, with Dreyer admitting to not being ready to face all of the trials and tribulations (‘I’m not sure yet if I’m ready to find out the hard way’) while musically the track brings tension through crunching guitar lines and downing melodies. “You and I” finalizes our time with the storyteller, as Dreyer touches back on his previous entries, pleading ‘Everybody needs someone or something’ as the hopeful melodies and guitars eventually fade to a sparse guitar line that ends the record in an emotionally draining fashion. In any case, Wildlife is lyrically, and for any case musically, unsettling and draining, hitting your heart like jackhammer through Dreyer’s poetic spouting.
In what in one of the post-hardcore world’s most anticipated releases, La Dispute rises to the challenge of following up a beloved album with musical growth and expanded emotion in a record that captures the journey of young adulthood with unapologetic purpose in a search for resolve. Wildlife is a sure-footed step forward for La Dispute – a band full of passion and creativity that have once again captured the feelings of hope and loss with impressive musical execution.