Early 2013 saw newbies Wild Smiles release both a double A-side single and an EP that pricked up a few ears, the Winchester trio suddenly finding themselves at the mercy of intrigued critics desperately attempting to pigeonhole their sound.
The single consisted of Tangled Hair and Sweet Sixteen, with the former giving a rather obvious nod towards ‘90s shoegaze with an added melodic guitar line. Take Me Away, from the EP, and the earlier Get Off My Back were also based around shimmering guitars and percussion. Sweet Sixteen, however, introduced melodic, surf-pop vocals that saw them moving away from My Bloody Valentine influences towards those of another favourite of frontman Chris Peden – The Beach Boys – whilst the layer of fuzz was retained; intriguing indeed.
Since then, the band seem to have acquired a sheen of polish to the rough, raw edge initially displayed and have also changed course again, or rather accumulated other elements to their identity, chiefly a touch of grunge and a whole lotta punk-pop. It’s enough to leave fans in a bewildered whirlwind.
Never Wanted This is an odd one to choose as a single, being as it is probably the least like their overall make-up both past and present. Imagine grunge given a speed boost and you’ve got it; switching between quiet verses and heavy chorus it’s a dead ringer for a Nirvana track, with added pace. Peden has stated that he tries to merge lighter and heavier stuff until he finds the right balance, but the rest of the album veers largely towards the heavy side of his argument with little to show at the other end of the spectrum.
The power punk of The Ramones appears to be the band’s current flavour of the month: opener Fool For You is a terrific, thunderous introduction that sounds a bit like Blitzkrieg Bop with melodic surf-pop like verses. Always Tomorrow is taken from the same mould and this style is clearly where most interest will lie, with the combination of Brian Wilson singing along to The Ramones’ jamming likely to sound a bit weird to some. Figure It Out is another punky number, a frantic paced, raucous cut with melodic undertones and the bitter “you don’t even listen to a word I say anymore” adding a touch of lyrical venom.
Classic power-pop meets more surfer vocals for one of the album highlights, The Best Four Years; it’s a slower effort with thick, fuzzy guitars, catchy verses and chorus leading to a neat little guitar hook that again sounds like several influences clashing together in a familiar yet fresh concoction. The call and response like construction of a guaranteed mosh-pit success – Girlfriend – is another addictive track; driven at unrelenting pace, it’s clearly what the band need to focus on as The Beach Boys-like verses find themselves being hit by a thunderous guitar response. It’s great stuff.
Occasionally, the eclectic nature of their influences doesn’t always come up smelling of roses: The Jesus And Mary Chain recalling Everyone’s The Same is a slower, adequate effort but the Reid brothers made an outstanding contribution by doing this thing a whole lot better. Album closer I’m Gone meanwhile is rather annoying: set to a tambourine beat and squalling guitars, it’s a remarkable achievement that the song sees its mundane chorus repeated a dozen times in under three minutes.
With Wild Smiles’ sound having changed so noticeably since their early output, it’s probably time they settled in their niche before their fans end up with an identity crisis themselves. Whilst the initial shoegaze, melodic output was arguably better, the punk-pop direction they’ve now taken remains attractive with the surf-pop vocal melodies proving key. It’s just a shame that ‘lost’ material never surfaced on an album; still, there’s always tomorrow.