Review Summary: A deep sea dive into the mysterious, unexplored depths of pop music.
In a lot of ways, pop feels like the ocean of musical genres. It covers such large portions of the Earth, yet we really don’t know that much about it. There are obviously the traits that everyone is aware of: it’s catchy, upbeat, and fun – but all too often, it is also creatively stunted and lacking in any true artistic merit. The style aims to please, and most of the time that fills the precise niche we want it to. However, the genre pool certainly hasn’t been explored in as much depth as what is undoubtedly possible, which means every now and then we will encounter something totally unexpected. Artists like FKA Twigs and Grimes have recently taught us not to get too comfortable with the umbrella-terms and stereotypes that make up the genre, because at any time someone can come along and totally shake things up – proving along the way that we don’t really know as much about pop music as we thought we did. This year, with the astoundingly diverse and exploratory Shine
, it’s Wildhart that delivers that unexpected twist.
Composed of swirling electronic soundscapes and dazzling percussive effects, Shine
is one hell of a debut LP from one of Sweden’s best kept secrets. Here, the trio aims to explore pop in as much depth as possible, and it’s bursting at the seams with both infectious energy and rousing creativity. ‘Broken Flowers’ feels like the cornerstone of the record, providing one of the biggest jolts of imagination to the album’s thematic makeup. While the introduction is full of distorted (and almost disconcerting) feedback, it also features one of the record’s most splendid and iridescent peaks – all atop a fearlessly experimental, electronically-charged backdrop. This description fits much of Shine
, although each song adds a new wrinkle to the band’s sound. Often, as with the positively defiant opener ‘Shake Off’, it is lead vocalist Ylva Holmdahl’s gorgeous yet unsettling voice that defines the experience. On ‘Fantasy’, it’s the way the whole thing slowly unravels over the course of a two minute outro that eventually devolves into nothing more than a subtle, drone-like haze. Even on the more traditionally structured efforts such as ‘Heal’, Wildhart still manage to ensure the entire thing comes undone during the second half in a whirlwind of unnerving shrieks, reckless drumming, and a pitter-patter effect that almost resembles a xylophone. The short story on Shine
is that it is extremely inventive, at times stunningly picturesque, and altogether pretty damn weird.
Although the album’s fervent experimentalism is prevalent throughout, there are certain gems here without which Shine
would lose some of its luster as a boundary tester. ‘Is It Possible’ pushes the envelope more than anything else here, starting out with a theatrical vocal harmony and tribal beats before totally shapeshifting halfway through into glistening, spaced-out chillwave. ‘We Made up a Dream’ has a tropical vibe throughout, but ends with ramped up synths and a thumping backbeat reminiscent of something Nine Inch Nails would have written circa The Downward Spiral
. The seven minute eponymous closer is one of the most jaw-dropping and aurally pleasing pieces of music you will likely hear this year, despite feeling like an exercise in musical entropy. In fact, that adjective right there is perhaps the most accurate single word to describe Shine
: it is a beautiful, gradual decline into disorder, and the longer the albums goes on the less organized it becomes.
As a whole, Shine
marks one of the most unprecedented triumphs for the pop genre in 2016. Wildhart have risen, seemingly out of nowhere, to craft a piece that in every right deserves to be in the conversation for the genre’s best album of the year. It’s a dazzling blend of pop’s most alluring traits and an untamed enthusiasm for exploring the types of creative depths that most pop artists either don’t bother with or don’t have the capacity to fathom, let alone implement. It’s electronically vibrant, vocally and lyrically passionate , incorporative of modern alt/indie stylings, and absolutely irresistible as an alternative to the stale template of contemporary pop music. Wildhart’s Shine
is a game changer, and one that we can only hope will spark a chain reaction of equally inspired works.