The five-piece from Duluth, Minnesota, has migrated well away from its roots and into a indie folk-pop territory. On their seventh studio album, Wild Animals, the wildness is confined to two tracks, with one being the speedy but untextured Come Back Home. While it's not nearly as dynamic as previous speed-picking compositions, it does retain a homespun comfort that is more frequently found on their slower alternative folk meanders.
The balance of the album is slow tracks, slower than any previously released album. As such, it requires new listeners to appreciate that this album augments the body of their work more than it acts as a standalone addition. In focusing on accessible song craft, not every track has the same spark.
Wild Animals plays out mostly like mellow meadow music.
It's apparently clear the wild animals that the title track alludes to are not ferocious. They move though the stillness of nature instead, felt more than seen. And as frontman Dave Simonett tells it, it's an intentional effort to stay connected to the simple animal side, a part of them that lives off the earth, hunts game, and worships the stillness once found in the trees and mountains that surrounded them.
"When I lived in Duluth, I think I took connection with uncivilized nature for granted. There, I had to drive 20 minutes and I was in the middle of nowhere, and I did this almost daily," he said. "This was a very important ritual for me. Solitary time in a nearly untouched landscape is my version of church, so I think there is a bit of loss of religion in a lot of my work these days."
To recapture that connection, Simonett says they wanted to capture the quiet intensity of being alive, bringing in their universal appeal to something more personal. It's also the first time in four albums that the band recruited a producer — Alan Sparhawk (Low) along with engineer B.J. Burton (Poliça, Megafaun, Volcano Choir) out of Pachyderm Studio (Nirvana, The Jayhawks).
Tracks like Are You Behind The Shining Star capture the simplicity of the album. There is an innocence and naivety from what Simonett and company remember from their earliest beginnings about ten years ago. It's mellow in its melody and meticulously crafted with big-world contemplation.
As solid as the song is, the more visceral tracks dismissed by some reviewers as uninterruptible deliver more satisfaction. Repetition is a hazy and impeccably authentic and reflective glide. Winners is another well-paced folk song that conjures up memories from what now seems like past lives.
Western World partly breaks the band out of the slow and steady pace of Wild Animals, with some fast fiddling and fingers creating a fountain. Rather than match the fiery pace, Simonett brings down the vocals to an eyes-closed deep thoughtfulness that characterizes much of the album.
Aside from Simonett, Tim Saxhaug (bass), Dave Carroll (banjo), Erik Berry (mandolin), and Ryan Young (fiddle) have never sounded better. The slower pace has helped maximize their precision as players. Their intuitive ability to compliment each other's talent is unmistakable too. They've stayed and played together longer than most.
"From the earliest times we started playing, there has always been a real hard-to-define quality about our chemistry, something special," said Berry. "It’s been a treat to find that more than ten years in we still can turn new corners, at least new-to-us corners, together in the way we approach a song or a sound and still with that quality. That something that makes us, us."
Wild Animals By Trampled By Turtles Turns 4.8 On The Liquid Hip Richter Scale.
Along with the above mentioned songs, give Lucy and Nobody Knows a listen. While not as strong as some of the other material on the album, both tracks feel like personal glimpses into the past lives of these indie folk players. Fans will find them especially appealing.
You can find Wild Animals by Trampled By Turtles on Amazon. Wild Animals is also on iTunes and readily available to order as the Wild Animals CD from Barnes & Noble. While reviewers have been less than generous overall, fans of the band have consistently rated the album five stars.