Review Summary: Intrigued, but not entirely satisfied.
Sheep, Dog and Wolf's 2011 debut EP Ablutophobia
, however unknown, displayed unparalleled promise. Tribal drums, unpredictable twists, and stunning brass seemed like a great launching pad for Daniel McBride's project, and it eventually led to his first full-length LP in 2013's Egospect
, which retained three of the EP's best songs while seemingly dropping the two most unorthodox offerings. Even if it didn't blow the roof off of the indiesphere like Ablutophobia
hinted that McBride might be capable of, it was still an extremely solid record which appeared to be another correct step towards recognition.
That's where the story ends, oddly enough. Fortunately, after an eight year layover, Sheep, Dog and Wolf has returned with Two-Minds
, a sophomore effort that pressures all of its seams with latent energy. Manic verses explode when you least expect them to, jazzy flutes and trumpets grace the airwaves, and gorgeous classical pianos trickle through whatever spaces are left in the mix. It's very much the logical successor to Egospect
, although after almost a decade, that becomes just as much of a valid criticism as it does a compliment. The fact that this record sounds like a product of early 2010's indie-folk may or may not tickle your fancy, but since there's a void in the "ridiculously experimental Shins" arena, it seems McBride may have found his niche anyway.
begins with something of a lockdown blues ballad in 'Months', which floats on little more than repetitive verses that swell with anxiety each time around: "I feel nothing but this pain and exhaustion / Give me something, I just need an emotion." The record hits its stride early with the off-kilter and crotchety title track, which seems to personify the uneasiness of its songwriter: "Lungs have lost all rhythm, there’s a panic in them / Wouldn’t call this breathing." That's really where the heart of Two-Minds
lies: it's this fidgety, worried, and tense creation that can't seem to think straight much less put its own mind at ease. Imagine sitting in your house for a week straight without leaving, sleeping two hours per night, and spending all of your time doomscrolling and watching the news. Listening to Two-Minds
is like trying to project that state of mind into sound, and sometimes it's as taxing to listen to as it is thrilling.
Things do sink into more of a relaxed oasis during the piano-driven 'Cyclical', replete with intermittent string flourishes that dance like rays of sun bouncing off dew-soaked grass in the morning, and 'Could've' is reflective like a crystalline pool under moonlight, erupting into elongated, reverb-drenched strums - but it fades when a tinnitus-inducing pitch introduces 'Fine'. With some minor electronic experimentation and an ear for pop-inclined melody, it's a track that does fine in spite of its initially baffling aural assault, and it sets the stage for Two-Minds
' most impressive moment in 'Deep Crescents'. The six-and-a-half minute track is a winding and exploratory indie-folk gem which features some of McBride's most jaw-dropping brass contributions - bringing to mind the sky's-the-limit
visions that danced like sugarplums in our heads when 'Ablutophobia' first dropped almost ten years ago.
Just as things are starting to get really good, Two-Minds
leaves us dead in the water - almost mid-chorus mind you - on the heavily percussive closer 'Feeling'. It's one of those things I'm not sure I should be miffed by, or if it actually personifies Two-Minds
- and on a larger scale the entire Sheep, Dog and Wolf project - to a tee. Is it an intentional tease (oh look, I'm oh so experimental and ironic
)? Or did he just not bother to finish the song by holding the note for an extra fraction of a second? These are the things about Sheep, Dog and Wolf that simultaneously attract and deflect. Two-Minds
is alluring in a way that is quite impossible to resist, yet it never seems to capitalize by giving its captivated audience anything to truly latch onto. It's breezy, intriguing, and ever-so-often more than that, but one can't help but feel like the classic album that McBride is so clearly capable of making
is still somewhere off in the future. Two-Minds
can serenade us while we wait, but it's better served as an appetizer while we cross our fingers that the chef in the back won't take another eight years to deliver the main course.