It’s been a while since I’ve done a record review, but Pill Wonder‘s Jungle/Surf 12”, released on the much heralded Underwater Peoples label, is just what I need to snap out of my slump. Adhering to the records appellation to a T, the vinyl is thematically split — the A-side being more “earthy” and the B-side more “beachy”, as you would expect — showcasing the diversity of these Washington experimentalists. Producing some of the most original full-band stuff I’ve heard in quite sometime, it’s hard to pinpoint (or, as bands would say, “pigeonhole”) Pill Wonder’s sound. All your left with after an initial listen is a favorable impression and the desire to spin the record on repeat.
No doubt, the vinyl’s highlights are found in the mid-section of each side. Marked by a mishmash of percussion noise and a persistent squeaky sound, which I can only describe as a distractive recorder-gone-bad, the openers of both faces on the 12” (“Foggg Eater” and “Wasted By the Screen”, respectively) certainly don’t put the band’s best foot forward. However, all is forgotten and forgiven when the needle jumps to track 2. On the A-side, “What We Know” begins with an assortment of wildlife sounds which matched perfectly the animal projections they had displayed when I caught them live back in November. After about a minute of this, the melody begins to rise up from the jungle floor and whispered vocals — the type that is more secretive than seductive — take over the track. Towards the end, the “bubbling feeling” that is present throughout the song gets manifested literally by a rapid-echo on the “AAoohhs” before seamlessly transitioning into the next track. Arguably my favorite in the bunch, “Being Bored”, with its legato couplets at the beginning and end of each phrase and its bouncy beat, is a lot of fun to listen to and, I’d imagine, a lot of fun to record.
As for the B-side, the second track, entitled “Gone to the Market”, is a verifiable jammm. Equipped with a head-bobbing intro and chant-able repeated lyrics of “and they look you in the eye”, the track will easily rouse the most arms-crossed of hipster crowds and have them singing in unison to the “AAAAOOOooohhhs” by the end. After the dancing to “Gone to Market” ends and the dust is settled, the record concludes with two of Pill Wonder’s most ballad-like songs: “Family Vacation” and “When I Look Back”. The former is a pleasant-enough track that brings the listener off their high and back to planet earth while the latter is short and sweet enough to serve as a perfect palate cleanser to an otherwise raucous record.
Give a listen to “Gone to Market” and “What We Know” below as well as check out the amazing, but mildly-NSFW, video they put together for “Wishing Whale” (the closer to the A-side). And if you like what you hear, cop the record from Underwater Peoples’s store here.