Both chameleonic Brooklyn band Wilder Maker and its keyboardist and co-lead-singer, Katie Von Schleicher, released clever, full-bodied, and singular rock songs last year. A poppier 7-inch released on Saddle Creek by Wilder Maker served as a follow-up to a series of EPs from the prior few years, which featured high-concept compositions blending progressive structures with Americana and jazz influences. The singles—“New Streets” and “Only Child”—were outside of the band’s normal wheelhouse, but unambiguously catchy, offering the band’s idiosyncratic perspective on the more silken side of ’70s radio rock. In the summer, meanwhile, Von Schleicher released a solo full-length called Shitty Hits, a wry and introspective collection that plays like a warped overview of several different decades of great pop-rock songwriting. On standouts like “Paranoia” and “Life’s a Lie,” she breaks up somber narration in the verses with ornate, wordless hooks that transcend the dominant guitar sludge and blown-out keyboards.
Now, with two new singles released on Friday, the Wilder Maker crew seem to be distinguishing themselves in the Brooklyn indie-rock landscape by embracing their natural penchant for deceptive complexity, while dipping into a deep musical vocabulary drawn from a wealth of timeworn influences.
On the A-side from her upcoming 7″, Von Schleicher operates in a stylistic zone similar to Shitty Hits. “Glad to Be Here” mixes plaintive melancholy in the vocal line with Beatles-reminiscent harmonies, swampy guitar blends, and a cavernous backbeat. The song’s first big lure is a pleading melodic line—”Didn’t it?”—which is constantly repositioned around a restless series of chords. But from there, the song doesn’t look back, never revisiting its passing earworms. The music builds linearly, changing course with the lyrics. Von Schleicher reflects on how separation can instigate a protracted parting of ways with a loved one (“Baby, I know when you’re gone that I can’t do it anymore…”). None of the song’s reroutings feel arbitrary, and that includes the guitar and piano break that seems to trace melodic snippets of the melody to “She’s Leaving Home” (not to belabor the Beatles comparisons). “Glad to Be Here” feels like a distinguishing moment in the catalog of Von Schleicher, who is set to hit the road with Mitski this summer.
Schleicher assumes keyboard and backing vocal duties on “Closer to God,” Wilder Maker’s debut single from their upcoming full-length Zion. The band’s album marks their debut on Northern Spy Records, and befitting the label’s slant toward left-of-center indie rock and the avant-garde, it makes sense that “Closer to God” is a more roughshod ride than the band’s singles from last year. It hews closer to the exploratory sensibility of the band’s previous EPs while sounding a lot liver, and bristling with energy. Bandleader Gabriel Birnbaum’s vocals are clear and at the center of the proceedings, invested with a grinning Tom Waits-like delivery and an effusive vocal cadence recalling Dylan at his turn-of-going-electric phrase. The verses present scattered scenes and stray images steeped in a NYC-specific malaise: where to mail the rent, what to do with the shit the old tenants left in the apartment, when to have the first drink of the day, and when to step out for a breath of fresher air in the park. Meanwhile, the band navigates the song’s deceptively complex rhythmic shifts without losing a sense of the groove, but they continually loosen the screws a little bit to maintain interest, and explode into momentary early-’70s Dead diversions in between verses.