On 2008’s Somewhere at the Bottom of the River Between Vega and Altair, La Dispute offered some fairly standard post-hardcore that felt more like the band paying homage to its influences than standing on its own two legs. Since then, the quintet has refined its sound and found ways to make vocalist Jordan Dreyer’s spoken-word vocal style gel with the rest of the band.
Dreyer doesn’t write lyrics, but instead tension-fueled short stories that he delivers with a shouted desperation. Developing characters and scenarios in mere seconds, Dreyer executes them in a manner that borders on cinematic. The stories bring the listener into the midst of each situation, allowing a close proximity to the situations that have been constructed.
Dreyer’s ability to execute these elaborate stories is one of the biggest reasons why Wildlife is more effective than any of La Dispute’s previous works.
This is not to say that Dreyer is the only reason why Wildlife is a more successful album. Guitarists Chad Sterenburg and Kevin Whittemore have integrated a nuanced style that allows for quiet moment to be moodier without meandering while writing pounding riffs that are executed with higher proficiency and purpose. On tracks such as “St. Paul Missionary Baptist Church Blues,” they create rhythms that complement Dreyer while subtly blending their unique parts into one another.
As Wildlife moves toward its second half, it keeps from stagnating thanks to drummer Brad Vander Lugt’s unique and inspired approach to each song. Rarely using similar patterns, he grooves with bassist Adam Vass, showing how necessary an adept rhythm section is to a post-hardcore band.
It is toward the albums end when Wildlife offers up its three strongest tracks: “King Park,” “Edward Benz, 27 Times” and “I See Everything.” This three-song section is the high point for the group’s career, both musically and lyrically. It’s fitting that these three tracks take up nearly a third of the album’s runtime, as it is simultaneously the most enjoyable section of the album and also the most unnerving. Each song deals with subject matter more weighty than the next—a drive-by shooting, a schizophrenic son attacking his father and a mother recounting her seven-year-old son’s battle with cancer. On these tracks, La Dispute proves that quality art isn’t always the easiest to digest. Each song would have been a suitable album closer because they leave listeners drained by the time each reaches their conclusion.
At nearly an hour in length, Wildlife is a behemoth of an album. La Dispute stepped up its game and is now challenging fans to take that step along with them. While the album fumbles a bit at its start, once it settles into its groove it never lets up. If the tracklist were pared down, it could have been a perfect album, but there is no shame in merely writing the most arduous record of the year.
La Dispute – Wildlife tracklist:
- “A Departure”
- “Harder Harmonies”
- “St. Paul Missionary Baptist Church Blues”
- “Edit Your Hometown”
- “A Letter”
- “Safer in the Forest/Love Songs for Poor Michigan”
- “The Most Beautiful Bitter Fruit”
- “A Poem”
- “King Park”
- “Edward Benz, 27 Times”
- “I See Everything”
- “A Broken Jar”
- “All Our Bruised Bodies and the Whole Heart Shrinks”
- “You and I in Unison”