The fourth full-length from Wild Pink, ILYSM unfolds with all the fractured beauty of a dreamscape. Over
the course of 12 chameleonic tracks, the New York-bred rock band build another world inhabited by
ghosts and angels and aliens, inciting a strange and lovely daze as the backdrop shifts from the mundane
(subdivisions, highways, hotel parking lots) to the extraordinary (deserts, battlefields, the moon). But
within its vast imagination lies a potent truth-telling on the part of singer/guitarist John Ross, whose lyrics
closely examine his recent struggle with cancer. The follow-up to 2021’s A Billion Little Lights—a critically
acclaimed effort praised by the likes of Pitchfork, NPR, Vulture, and Stereogum, who named it “one of the
prettiest rock records of the past decade”—ILYSM emerges as a truly revelatory body of work,
transforming the most painful reflection into moments of transcendence.
As Ross reveals, ILYSM’s feverish yet fragile intensity has much to do with the unmooring experience of
being diagnosed with cancer early in the writing process. Now in the surveillance phase of recovery, Ross
explains, “Even though I’d already started working on the record, everything took on new meaning after
my diagnosis. I started writing songs that tried to make sense of the whole experience, including the love
and support I felt from the people in my life—particularly my wife, which is where the title came from.”
Co-produced by Ross with Justin Pizzoferrato (Pixies, Body/Head, Speedy Ortiz) and Peter Silberman of
The Antlers, ILYSM finds Wild Pink joining forces with a thrilling lineup of guest musicians, including J
Mascis, Julien Baker, Ryley Walker, Yasmin Williams and Samantha Crain. As the most experimental
work to date from Wild Pink—whose lineup also includes bassist Arden Yonkers and drummer Dan
Keegan—the album embodies a finespun yet mercurial sound embedded with so many unexpected
details (e.g., the spirited gang vocals of its title track, the slippery grooves and unearthly narration of
“Abducted at the Grief Retreat,” Mascis’s frenetic solo on “See You Better Now”). Mainly recorded at
Sonelab in Easthampton, Massachusetts, ILYSM ultimately marks a bold departure from the lush
orchestration of A Billion Little Lights, yet still bears an endlessly immersive quality. “I wanted to make a
record with more organic elements than the last one,” says Ross. “Playing live in the room together as a
band was very important to me—I really leaned on them to bring their talents to the table, which they did.”
An album informed by the odd poetry of everyday life, ILYSM opens on “Cahooting The Multiverse”—a
gorgeously hazy track encapsulated by Ross as “a stream-of-consciousness tune inspired by watching
the light come in through the sugar maples where I live, or taking a walk by the school and seeing this
little mountain of cigarettes where the teachers sneak out to smoke behind the cedar trees.” From there,
Wild Pink drift into the quiet grandeur of “Hold My Hand” feat. Julien Baker, one of ILYSM’s most
profoundly vulnerable moments. “I wrote that song right after my first surgery, about lying on the operating
table where a member of the surgical team held my hand right before I went under,” says Ross. “It sounds
kind of arbitrary, and like it shouldn’t have been as impactful as it was, but I felt very comforted and
wanted to capture that loving feeling in the song.” Featuring the elegant piano work of David Moore
(leader of the ambient ensemble Bing & Ruth), the result is a hypnotic piece of chamber-pop, brightened
by Baker’s warm and wistful vocals.
Graced with the dreamy pedal-steel tones of Mike “Slo-Mo” Brenner (Magnolia Electric Co., Badly Drawn
Boy) and the syrupy clarinet of Jeremy Viner (Bing & Ruth), “War on Terror” presents a lonesome and
sprawling portrait of wandering the beach at night, once again illuminating the gently jarring effect of
Ross’s lyrics (“Stay in the ocean because it’s just me/And the big moon rowing across the sky/Time is
always moving to the right/And measured in things like tumor markers”). “There’s a running theme
throughout this record of the moon being a constant companion, and I think that comes across in this
song the most,” notes Ross. And on “Sucking on the Birdshot,” Wild Pink deliver one of ILYSM’s most
devastating tracks: a six-and-a-half-minute epic driven by crashing rhythms and gloriously careening riffs.
“I was in Florida and saw a sandhill crane by the side of the road; its partner had been killed by a car, and
the bird was mourning and screaming in pain—I’ve never heard anything like it,” says Ross. “They’re
these very striking birds that look like dinosaurs, and I came to learn that they mate for life, which is
unusual in the animal kingdom. I had that in mind when I wrote this song about a pure expression of love
in the natural world, and how your own first love can feel huge in a similar way.”
For Ross, the process of bringing ILYSM to life provided a certain sense of escape, even at its most
daunting moments. (“I was actually back in another cancer surgery within a week of wrapping up the
recording,” he recalls. “It was pretty surreal to record this album knowing I had cancer in my lymph
nodes—but since I couldn’t have the surgery any sooner, I just stuck with my studio time.”) And with the
release of ILYSM, Wild Pink hope the album might supply others with their own outlet for solace and
catharsis. “Writing about all this has helped me process my experience, or even just acknowledge that I
still don’t completely understand how I feel about it,” says Ross. “It’s been a very confusing, overwhelming
time, and hopefully it’ll offer some kind of comfort to anyone else who’s feeling overwhelmed or confused
Trace Mountains is the musical project of American indie rock musician Dave Benton. He has released 3 studio records since formally starting the band in 2018, A Partner to Lean On, Lost in the Country and most recently, House of Confusion. Benton was formerly a member of the lo-fi band Lvl UP.
Nick Delffs grew up in Mendocino County, a lawless stretch of coastline that’s hard to get to and, for many, hard to escape. Nick did — emerging in the early aughts as the frontman for Portland band The Shaky Hands, whose sharp, jittery rock was anchored by Nick’s quavering vocals and questing lyrics. The Shaky Hands were mainstays of Portland on the verge of a major shift, and they rode that shift a while, signing to Kill Rock Stars and touring internationally with some of the bigger names in indie rock. But a hiatus in 2011 became indefinite and Nick Delffs was once again cast into the world: working as a sideman, releasing solo records, doing manual labor, going deeper into his spiritual practices, and, crucially, becoming a father.
Becoming a parent can affect different artists in different ways. Nick rode that change with surpassing grace and maturity. 2017’s Redesign, his first full-length under his own name, reflected the transition. In “Song for Aja”, Nick touched on other concerns familiar to those who follow his work: love of the natural world; longing for spiritual and physical connection; the desire to suffer with meaning and exult with abandon, to embrace somehow the world in its maddening contradictions and find the unity at the core.
Childhood Pastimes, his second release on Mama Bird Recording Co., is both more focused and, despite being technically an EP, more ambitious. It’s a four-song cycle — one song with many movements or four songs that bleed into one another, depending on how you hear it — that can be viewed either as a personal journey or an archetypal passage of a human being through four discrete stages: roughly, the movement from childhood innocence into adolescent adventure (The Escape); the sudden immersion into a life of discovery and excitement (The Dream); the first experience of romantic love, followed by the onset of heartbreak, dissolution, breakdown of self (The Affair); the emergence into a new way of thinking, a fresh perspective that encompasses all the suffering and joy into a balanced whole (The Outside).
Nick plays nearly all of the instruments here and the result is a unified aesthetic, born ultimately of his deep-seated love of rhythm: the thrum and throb of the acoustic guitars, the percussive melodic bang of the elegantly-crafted piano lines, and always, always the insistent, driving drums, propelling the record, and the listener, on this journey as the four tracks bleed into one another, one body, one blood, one beating heart. The concept of four songs that are really one suite of music requires a sure hand, and Nick’s never shakes: the way the songs blend together while retaining their distinctiveness — from the poppy exaltation of “The Escape” to the cold intensity, almost like an acoustic Kraftwerk, of “The Affair” — shows a songwriter and musician who has fully grown into his powers.
Those who have followed Nick’s career may see this as a culmination of years and years of honing and fine-tuning his bountiful gifts, and wonder with delight what might come next. For those who haven’t listened to Nick before, Childhood Pastimes is the perfect entry point, a distillation of what’s come before and the promise of a new beginning.