Desolation Wilderness - "Venice Beach" (New Universe)
Desolation Wilderness spent plenty of time on the road between their first record and New Universe. That seems to be the gist behind their follow-up: they’ve seen a lot, and learned a lot, and now they’d like to tell you a little bit about what the world is like. They simultaneously strive for vastness and intimacy, splitting the difference between the complexity of pop’s masters of yesteryear like Spacemen 3, My Bloody Valentine or the Magnetic Fields, and today’s single-minded bedroom 4-track heroes. The result is a series of panoramas motivated by ideas about the nature of the moon and the boardwalk that try very hard to make something out of nothing.
The record finds the band operating in a similar space as the War on Drugs or Real Estate: a fuller sound with a little more polish that still feels homegrown. But in this case, the layers of production do more to maintain a distance than swallow you whole. Songs like “Boardwalk Theme” and “No Tomorrow” deliver their mildly ecstatic, precocious worldview not from the mount, but from across a canyon.
And what’s even more frustrating is their seemingly unrelenting commitment to alienation. Opener “Venice Beach” promises so much more, with its jangly campfire feel and the kind of riffing that anyone would drink to. Like if the Walkmen had listened to a lot more surf rock as kids. But after that, the songs foster a palpable disconnect, walling off any real emotion in an effort to play it cool. Desolation Wilderness obviously has an anxiety about living life to the fullest when they saddle their songs with names like “Restless Heart” and “San Francisco 2AM.” But they never really provide the snapshot of a life less ordinary in the way that real Bay Area insomniacs Girls do in “Hellhole Ratrace.”