Working in the forms of prose poetry, synth-driven ballads and creeping guitar, singer-songwriter Anika Pyle’s solo debut Wild River is as organic and ambitious as how we process grief — through a series of unexpected inconsistencies. A departure from previous punk pop groups Chumped and Katie Ellen, Pyle’s gentleness in folk-synth-pop explores the death of her father and how to miss someone through details lost in-between.
The album was co-produced by Matt Schimelfenig (Gladi and Three Man Cannon). This is crucial as he was able to find the perfect atmospheric organ sounds for her songs, Pyle mentioned in an interview with BrooklynVegan. Wild River captured a few genres, some of which ring reminiscent of Marissa Nadler’s angelic auroras and Casiotone For The Painfully Alone retro arrangements.
In particular, the writing is distinct. Poems in the album are packed, and it makes up for urgency the other songs fail to provide. And while songs are often seen as poems, poems don’t always see the light into songs if a cadence or silence is off.
The third track “Prayer for the Lonely” sets the stage for more detailed narratives. It’s the most upbeat, powered with percussive movement and platitudes like “It’s always the little things / that make it right” and “I hope you’re happy / I hope you feel loved.” However, this is done on purpose to preface what’s to come. Like the intensity after a rollercoaster, the excitement is still placeable, but the actual event has passed. It’s almost appropriate to secure the winning seat for the closing track, but the premature placement makes sense.
“The Mexican Restaurant Where I Last Saw My Father” is the highlight of the album. It’s where a wound opens and the platitudes fill with meaning. Every line moves, delivering something new and like any good poem, syllables, omitted prepositions, and pauses find their homes in the compactness. Grief is never a chronological process, and the surprise of songwriting allots space when needed.
Moments like, “He wore a blazer, uncharacteristic,” “I made rice and scrolled through the internet” and “his favorite was key lime” piece the narratives in a fragmented timeline. It uplifts the magic of sewn-in whispers and imperfections like a radiator humming in the background. We learn to love something (like a flavor of pie) because of someone else.
Though the most impressive focus of this record is not just the vulnerable movement of memories without romanticizing the death of a loved one. It’s that Pyle doesn’t home in on catchy choruses or consistency that requires validation from the listener, and therefore, completely owns her art.
I end this by turning off the album and rocking out to Katie Ellen. It’s “Cowgirl Blues” in particular, which was a sound I wanted to mimic when I was 20-years-old. I danced to this energy in windowless basements while holding a La Croix in the air. The water splashed everywhere, probably too close to the PA, accentuating the already dirty sneakers in the crowd.
It’s funny though because no matter how sad Wild River is, I want to dance the first moment there’s a beat. Maybe it’s because the songs remind us how fleeting these happy glimpses can be. Sitting in bed with tea, half-changed out of my outfit and still wearing my button-down, I nod in agreement. What’s carried throughout is the comic relief and release we all deserve.
Wild River is out now on June Records.
Essential Tracks: “The Mexican Restaurant Where I Last Saw My Father” and “Prayer for the Lonely”
Prerequisites: Marissa Nadler’s Ballads of Living and Dying and Casiotone For The Painfully Alone’s Etiquette