Upper Wilds

Mars

Thrill Jockey Thrill 472-CD
  • LP: Includes download, Initial copies on orange color vinyl
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On Mars, Upper Wilds dramatically expand their musical scope with modern noise-pop epics about our colonization of the red planet. Loud and visceral guitar lines are anchored by addictive melodies while driving bass and drums support soaring vocal harmonies and alien sounds. The Brooklyn trio of Dan Friel (Parts & Labor), Zach Lehroff (Ex Models) and Jeff Ottenbacher build on the sonic palette of their debut Guitar Module 2017, adding new colors and textures. Using space and science fiction as tools to explore contemporary issues, Mars exploits a tension between the infinite potential of the cosmos and the gritty details of exploring it. The songs throughout are as intelligent as they are exuberant, bristling with energy and passion.

Recorded by Martin Bisi (Sonic Youth, Swans, Boredoms), Mars is propelled by Lehroff’s monstrous bass tone, and for the first time on record, live drums from Ottenbacher. Together, the pair form a formidable rhythm section for Friel to riff over. But where synths formed an essential part of Guitar Module 2017, here Friel eschews keys in favor of his vocals processed through an array of guitar pedals, creating a world of cosmic sounds - from the frantic Morse code bleeps tapped out at the start of opener “Dead Mall”, to the soaring howl that circles above the noise in “Mars.” Additional vocals from Katie Eastburn (Young People, KATIEE) add a much more human element, her harmonies providing a rich textural contrast on “Hellcoder,” ”Ex-Frontiers” and first single “Perfect Eyesight.” The title track’s huge choruses are bumped up by current Guided by Voices bassist Mark Shue, pop punk activist Jeff Rosenstock, previous Upper Wilds drummer Aaron Siegel and future touring bassist Jason Binnick, a cast of friends and collaborators who add to song’s resounding peaks.

Touring as a trio following the release of Guitar Module 2017 has particularly shaped Upper Wilds’ sound. More time playing together on the road also bolstered the trio’s confidence to experiment with structure, giving parts more room to breathe. This expansive sound can be heard in the extended improvisation on the title track “Mars,” and the thundering album closer “Ex-Frontiers.”

Friel’s fascination with space manifests itself at every level of the record, from NASA satellite samples used in the closing drone of the album to the vivid narrative conjured within. “Dead Mall,” “Mars,” and “Ex-Frontiers” together chart our imagined move to Mars, hope and adventure giving way on the latter as the planet is slowly transformed into one big strip mall. “Skylab” draws on the mysterious 1973 astronaut strike, pondering issues of orbital labor laws, while “Wine Flies” turns the viewpoint back around, written from the perspective of the first earthlings in deep space, a collection of Russian wine flies and tortoises. The appropriately space age inspired cover art was created by Nolen Strals of both the band Double Dagger and award-winning design studio Post Typography. As hinted at on the album art, Mars is only the beginning. Upper Wilds intends this to function as the first in a series of releases themed around the planets.

Mars is a cathartic explosion to lose yourself in. Friel has always loved the pop song structure, distortion, and the raw hopeful energy of DIY spaces, and on Mars Upper Wilds take that and soar into an entirely new arena.

Upper Wilds: Mars

Dead Mall Upper Wilds
Hellcoder Upper Wilds
Skylab Upper Wilds
Wine Flies Upper Wilds
Perfect Eyesight Upper Wilds
Mars Upper Wilds
Deimos Upper Wilds
Caveman Upper Wilds
Ex-Frontiers Upper Wilds

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