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A Tale of Two Characters 

Wild Abandon's Character Study and Makeshift Kink's Ambulance Eternal

click to enlarge Album art for Makeshift Kink's Ambulance Eternal by Shea Mitchell.


Album art for Makeshift Kink's Ambulance Eternal by Shea Mitchell.

Pairing is a weird notion, particularly in art and music, where not every comparison is consonant. A lot is left up to individual taste, as well, which is the nature of critical study. My general criteria for reviewing local music is as follows: I won't write about anything I disliked (this town ain't big enough for that); I do my best to judge the music on the merits of what the musician was trying to achieve rather than my own tastes; and I prefer to review albums from artists whose performances I have seen. With the boilerplate all taken care of, I am happy to present two rich and dynamic releases from artists you have the opportunity to check out live this month. These records complement each other and, while unlikely, it would be nice to see their respective creators share the stage someday.

Wild Abandon has been honing its roots rock and pop bona fides with enough time and skill to garner a local following. The band's live shows are a treat, with stage banter and dancing plastered into the bright patina of solid musicianship. Their sophomore record Character Study builds on a sound that dips into a few familiar sonic inkwells from yesteryear without being derivative. As was the case with the band's first release, 2018's Grayscale, I would gamble on the songs being much better when live than canned, but I did have a lovely time walking the neighborhood hearing the mix on headphones. Credit that to a quintet of capable musicians led by singer and guitarist Melanie Barnett, whose harmonies with singer Marley Jarvis sit well in the mix over a solid foundation of bass, drums and lead guitar. No window dressing needed here.

The lead track "Alaskan Beauty" has an accompanying video on YouTube and feels like it was made to be The One, pushing the indie rock aesthetics into a Humboldt context — I have often referred to our county as the Alaska of California. However, despite its prominence, it is not the best song on the record. In fact, as it unfolds over eight songs, it gets better. The second tune "'Spitting Image" takes a few more chances with a 10,000 Maniacs vibe but, for my money, the best track comes in at the end of the first half. "Future Selves," the fourth track, has it all, by which I mean every little thing that this band does well: playful and driving drums, provocative leads, chugging and jangly rhythm guitar buttressing a solid vocal display of fine lyricism. Shoutout to workhorse players Gabe Lubowe on drums, bassist Nate Zwerdling and lead six-stringer Cory Goldman. I selfishly wanted a little more bass in the mix but that's a personal prejudice borne from a past life as a four-string journeyman. It's all good.

You can give it a listen for yourself on most of the major online platforms (Spotify, Apple Music, Bandcamp, Amazon, something called Deezer). Even better, you can check Wild Abandon out in its natural environment, a live show at Humbrews, on July 8. (See Setlist on page 18). Either way, Wild Abandon continues to be a winning collaboration and a banger of a live draw.

On the other end of the stringed spectrum comes Makeshift Kink, a late-night ambient pop collage by local musician Shea Mitchell, perhaps most recently recognizable to show-goers as the drummer for rock trio The Sugar Boys. As I mentioned in my preamble, this town (and county) ain't big, and I tend to get to know everyone sooner or later in the music scene, but it's worth disclosing that Shea and I used to be roommates while navigating the precarious maze of Arcata's real estate market. That doesn't influence my review positively, though — I'd happily break one of my foundational rules and flame his skinny ass to charcoal if he turned out a cheesy display. Sadly for the haters and drama-mongers out there, this is far from the case.

Over a howling and intimate record that rhymes in sequencing with Wild Abandon — eight tracks of tunes — this one-fella act pleads the case for whispered lullabies over sonic devastation. Pop hooks galore embedded in enough driving drums and bass grind, reverbed distortion and longform keyboard vistas to make you lean in to really get what's going on. You're rewarded with a sensitivity that refuses to be twee or cloying, but is still unabashedly pop brilliance. And while I am a massive fan of covers that depart entirely from their originals — there's a Ramones song in here that fits that bill — my favorite track is "Reservation." I don't know how much of the end result comes from the mix mastering by globetrotting, concrete musician Brian Pyle, but his name is worth a mention, as Mitchell conceived of and played everything else.

You can hear the whole thing on YouTube and, if you want to get into it properly, I'd suggest listening to it at home or driving, while deep in the night, and as a fine companion to a river day with Wild Abandon. If you'd like to see it realized live, keep an eye on the Setlist, as Mitchell has assembled a crew to perform these slow burners live at the Miniplex on July 26. Whether that crew can deliver on stage with the same jouissance as Wild Abandon, I am dead serious that I'd like to see the two acts on the same bill some night. And my inside roulette dolly bet says that you would, too. Viva.

Collin Yeo (he/him) has one brain, two ears and some fingers. Occasionally he uses them in conjunction when writing about music. He lives in Arcata.

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Collin Yeo

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