Shedding their formative pop-punk skin in favour of acoustic guitars and light harmonies, Kevin Jordan and Anthony Del Grosso gave life to the present incarnation of This Wild Life in 2014 with the release of ‘Clouded’. This was preceded by 2016’s ‘Low Tides’, a record which featured heavier arrangements and denser, darker subject matters. ‘Petaluma’ is the duo’s third full-length and has been promised to be lighter in tone, yet continuing to expand and develop Jordan and Del Grosso’s output.
The result most obviously fulfils the first of those criteria, with some debate over whether it does the second.
‘Figure It Out’ mixes crisp acoustic intricacies with an endearing simplicity that lends itself to a melancholic vein, something which carries over into ‘Headfirst’. Though never quite meeting its anthemic aspirations, the focus on Jordan’s crystalline voice is effective.
The best moment is ‘Catie Rae’, as the pair again find success in simplicity, but succinctly and wisely keep the track at two minutes. The subtle use of ukulele and strings give what is an unabashed love song the potential of becoming a TWL fan-favourite.
Indeed, when arrangements are supplemented with drums and more prominent bass, and song that lean towards the four-minute mark, ‘Petaluma’ becomes less engaging. ‘Positively Negative’, for example, feels baggy and features rather too many sections. Elsewhere,‘Never Believe‘ demonstrates how building around a single, simple idea, in this case a recurring brass motif, better plays to the duo’s strengths.
‘Westside’‘s intricate odes to innocence belie its address of sexual abuse – ‘we were too young to drink, too drunk to drive’ , while the upbeat ‘Come Back Down’ provides a further evidence of how the addition of brass is a happy marriage with the acoustic set-up.
A light offering, ‘Petaluma’ doesn’t particularly challenge or reward through repeated listens, but it’s not a necessary requirement of any album to do so. It won’t see This Wild Life off on a new trajectory or alter their existing one, but it is a perfectly satisfactory addition to a growing catalogue.
‘Petaluma’ by This Wild Life is out now on Epitaph.
Words by Peter Stewart (@PeteStew_)