Review Summary: Amidst their evolution, La Dispute lose a piece of themselves.
The first thing that becomes immediately apparent from the opening moments of ‘Wildlife’ is that La Dispute have matured considerably. Often, musical maturity brings with it improved song writing, musicianship, and in general, higher quality music. Except that is, when your biggest assets and selling points lie in your raw emotion and your frantic, unpolished delivery. The wild riffs that took centre stage and battled with the vocalist and other instruments for superiority. Your lead singer who was not only allowed, but encouraged to wail and yell way past the point of excess, and then for a little bit longer, and it somehow working against all logic. The chronicling of grand tales of misfortune and betrayal, without any reservations as to whether they may seem contrived, juvenile, or just plain cheesy. These are the things that made La Dispute, well, La Dispute, and on ‘Wildlife’, they’ve decided to evolve.
Playing to your strengths is a simple philosophy that has become clichéd thanks to its applicability to any walk of life or profession. But it’s one cliché that, all sighs aside, rings true time and time again. On ‘Wildlife’, La Dispute haven’t eradicated everything that made them unique, but they have unnecessarily shackled themselves in a bid to mature. Nothing on ‘Wildlife’ sticks out as being distinctly poor, and yet very little distinguishes itself as being of real quality either; undoubtedly the biggest problem the album suffers from. ‘Harder Harmonies’ aside, the first seven songs contain very little substance, and barely leave an impression upon their completion, with ‘a Departure’, ‘St. Paul Missionary Baptist Church Blues’, and ‘a Letter’ prime culprits. The same is true of ‘The Most Beautiful Bitter Fruit’, which features a promising, understated riff that bubbles beneath the surface and comes alive at the songs chorus, only to disappointingly regress again as quickly as it announced itself.
On the majority of ‘Wildlife’, the guitars are noticeably softened and no longer do battle with vocalist Jordan Dreyer, instead seeming content to provide undertones for him to merge with in the spoken word sections and dominate in the harsh. The highlights occur when Dreyer exists independently to the music, spinning tales and driving the songs rather than following his bandmate’s lead. ‘King Park’ sees him at his undisciplined best, as he delivers the most emotive lyrics that La Dispute have ever put to record, in arguably the finest song they've ever penned. As it ebbs and flows mirroring the intensity of the story it’s depicting, so are we painted ever clearer pictures of the unfolding events. The culmination of the accidental killing of a child in a drive-by shooting is delivered in a crushing finale, where restraint is ignored in favour of brutal, colourful imagery. Following track ‘Edward Benz, 27 Times’ continues the trend, with an effectual story involving mental illness and a riff reminiscent of their debut. Coupled with ‘a Poem’ and ‘a Broken Jar’, the stronger latter half of ‘Wildlife’ effectively recalls the elements that made their previous works so engaging.
In their search for a more mature sound, La Dispute have crafted a cohesive collection of songs that undoubtedly flows more competently than their debut. Somewhere amidst their evolution however, they've managed to lose some of the creative spark that made them so endearing and relatable in the first place.