I'm not one for pop music, at least not modern pop music. I find it way too generic and boring to listen to. Simple four-chord progressions can get very repetitive after a while, especially when combined with lazily-written lyrics. But Stepdad's "Wildlife Pop" certainly is a wild take on the genre. In this album, the abstract American band enthuse their pop ballads with a dose catchy electronica and synthpop to create something truly different and unique that will leave you humming their tunes for hours to come. I shall be doing a track- by-track review of the album.
01. Must Land Running
Repeated samples of a child's voice and a wild piano chord kick off this album with an exciting bang. The energy in this song is a wonderful hint at what's to come on the album whilst remaining as a strong entity on its own. Mark Tafel on lead vocals makes his presence known with a combination of low and high notes that he belts out magnificently. The guitars and drums are a little simple but Tafel's vocals and Ryan McCarthy's keyboard work coincide beautifully and help to make this a truly memorable and welcome album opener.
The first bombastic song of the album contains powerful tribal drums and uninnovative but impressive vocals from Tafel, along with subtle but brilliant backing vocals from McCarthy that help add an extra layer to the song without distracting too much from the main article. The keyboards and sampling are also masterfully crafted to create an epic and unforgettable adventure that leave this track as one of the best of the album. It's not as upbeat or as zany as some of other's Stepdad's songs, which makes for a diverse look into the band's musical range.
03. Show Me Your Blood
Oh, boy, things are getting good. Show Me Your Blood was one of the first songs I heard by Stepdad and it remains a favourite of mine. It combines happy melodies with lyrics about damage and distrust perfectly. Tafel gives his all as usual and the keyboard ostinatos are the best on the album so far. The chorus is definitely the highlight of the song, with Tafel yelling, "Show me your blood!" wonderfully, truly captivating the listener's attention and holding it for the rest of the song. What a journey.
04. Mystery In The Faking
Probably the weakest song on the album. Tafel doesn't have much fun with the vocals and the entire song feels like it could do with a few extra layers to make it feel like more of a solid entry. It is probably the most generic song on the album, resulting in a less-than-enjoyable experience. Credit where it's due though, as the lyrics are as strong as the rest of the songs on the album and McCarthy's keyboard work is still a great addition to a fairly bland song.
05. Will I Ever Dance Again
Perhaps the most 80's-esque sounding song on the track, this song transports you to another world as the dainty keyboard work and Tafel's versatile delivery of ,"You're not here to point the right direction. Will I ever dance again? You're not here to ease this tension. Will I ever dance again?" makes you want to tap your foot and click your fingers more than any other song on the album so far. I'll admit, I wasn't a fan of the song when I first heard it, as it's not as bombastic or epic as some of the other songs on the album. But I soon got past that phase and was left with a super-fun and enthusiastic 3 minutes of auditory pleasure.
06. To Ribbons
I love it when a song slowly builds and builds, and this is exactly what To Ribbons does. The lyrics aren't the most inventive but the unbelievable energy Tafel and McCarthy put in the lines, "Nothing's easier, it'll only end up bringing you down" makes the song very easy to sing along to and a memorable tune to bob your head to. The guitair work here by Alex Fives is also the best its been in this track, as it finally feels like a solo presence rather than a small part of a bigger picture.
07. My Leather, My Fur, My Nails
If you know of this band, it is probably because of this song. "My Leather, My Fur, My Nails" helped to put Stepdad on the musical map and rightfully so. The synths and keyboards are more powerful than ever before, and Tafel goes all out with the chorus, reaching high and low pitches almost effortlessly. Jeremy Malvin's drumming also has to be noted here, as he has been a fairly bland component to the album before this point. His fills are a welcomed additon and are simple but help to give the song that little extra kick that makes it as memorable as it is. Plus, the bridge is a stroke of genius as Tafel and McCarthy duel vocals in order to make this song one of the best Stepdad have ever made.
08. Pick & Choose
This song goes dangerously close to being slightly generic but is saved by the fact that it is genuinely fun to listen to through an assortment of high-pitched beeps and funky noises. Plus, the chorus is one of the most memorable on the album with, "If I could pick, could pick & choose, I choose you..." highlighting the interplay between Tafel and McCarthy's vocals. Fives' guitar work also pops up again in more memorable ballad compared to previous songs.
09. Starfriends On Earth
The second weakest song on the album is still a fun entry but feels restrained as Tafel yet again doesn't have much fun with the vocals. The lyrics aren't really anything special, mostly just consisting of generic, "Oh"'s. The sampling and keyboards drone and are barely noticeable, which is a strange fact as they have been a notable presence since the start of the album. Still, this gives Malvin a much-needed chance to shine on the drums.
10. Treasure Hugs
Being perhaps the most atmospheric song on the album helps to make this tune a brilliantly fun one. It combines natural and artificial sounds masterfully, though Tafel's vocals are still very lacking. This is saved, however, by ridiculously catchy hunter/warrior cry samples that accompany the song through its beginning and end stages. It is also in this song in which Malvin finally shows us what he's capable of, as his interplay between the hi-hats and toms at the end of the song just makes you want to jump up and start running for a good mile or so. If a song can motivate you to do something like that (through the percussion no less), it's definitely doing something right.
Everyone is on their A-game in this song as the band once again blend natural and artificial. McCarthy's work on the keyboards is the best its been yet, and Tafel sounds completed devoted in making the songs, "Ooooh", moments not sound generic, and he pulls it off magnificently. The lyrics are also very strong and memorable: "He doesn't want to be found, he'll be hiding out, he'll be hiding. Be still and don't make a sound, he will cry out to the night sky now." Remember what I said about songs building? Well, say hello to the main article, as gang vocals take over by the end of the song and returns to the bombastic, almost cinematic, nature of Jungles.
12. Warrior (Jungles Part 2)
There's no better way to end this album than with my favourite song on the album. Warrior not only remains epic and mysterious throughout, but you can also literally HEAR the emotion in Tafel's voice drooling out when he belts out the pre-chorus and chorus vocals. It's also a very uplifting and inspirational song, with genius-level lyrics like, "Warrior, the bite marks soon will heal. Warrior, do not forget how it feels." It's a song that tells you that things will get better and that there will always be happiness, despite the inevitable horrible events of life (At least, that's what I take from it.), all whilst still retaining the wildlife, animalistic theme of the album. I was in a crappy state of my life when I first heard this song, and luckily it was just what I needed, as it managed to help me cope with the situation and made me happy and optimistic again. This is definitely the best message that I took from the album and was a fitting end to the brilliant and immersive journey that is "Wildlife Pop". Seriously, check this song out.
Overall, this album impressed me in many ways. Each song felt better than the last and it's not often that pop albums do that to me. Tafel and McCarthy had a clear idea and stuck with it throughout, resulting in a brilliant effort from every member of the band. Chock-full of genuine emotion, heart, and energy, Wildlife Pop is a gem that definitely deserves more recognition.