Record Label: Broken Circle Records
Release Date: February 25, 2014
A band’s lyricism can often fall into one of two categories, either taking the forefront to make a lasting impression on listeners or failing to do so and falling at the wayside. Fortunately for Dreamtigers, the stories they pen find themselves of equal or greater quality to those of their other musical venture, critically praised hardcore outfit Defeater. Throughout Wishing Well, core members Jake Woodruff and Andrew Gary opt to follow the routes of singer/songwriter Ryan Adams and Canadian storytellers the Weakerthans, allowing their music to accompany and further these tales rather than tarnish them or get in the way.
Opening track “Just a Game” is wholly representative of the album’s first half, introducing a slow, building string section against the title-referencing line, “Toss it down the wishing well/Oh, well”. The song sets a tone for the sleepy, almost lullaby-like state held by the first half of the record before its B-side bursts and blooms with new found energy. “Never Know” is the only big exception to this pattern, flaunting one of the record’s strongest choruses followed by a flurry of impressive, haunting instrumentation. From there, Wishing Well relaxes its musical chops in exchange for a focus on intimate lyricism and arrangement. “Go Forth Alone” displays the album’s lush production against a breezy, stripped down and slightly upbeat melody before transitioning into the nostalgic nature of “Letting Go”. “I can’t forget this town/Can’t forget the years we ran around/Scared to let you go/Scared to let you know” is a prime example of words simple yet beautiful, and universal enough to hit home for almost any listener.
Wishing Well is an album that demands your attention, which plays well both to its greatest strength and weakness. Each individual song is sonically and structurally successful, but not all of them will resonate immediately (which is by no means a bad thing). By the time “The Escapist” rolls in, however, the first half of the record has blended so coherently together that it leaves the listener craving a change in tone, which is exactly where “The Smoke and Low” comes into play. Verses bounce along a catchy piano piece, boasting an almost Beatles-esque melody and vocal delivery that completely rejuvenates the record and its strong (but melancholic) first half. “So Long” comes with a thick Western influence, introducing slide guitars and enough grit to sound reminiscent of Murder By Death’s early output (especially given its bridge- fellow MBD fans will know what I mean).
It would seem as though the album's mid-section is easily the high point of Wishing Well, but once the record’s final act unravels, the idea of a high point completely melts away. “God Damn My American Heart” is a genuinely fun, high-octane experiment straight through its devastating bridge, in which against a barrage of distortion, gang vocals chant “Scatter all the seeds/Smile and wait for spring.” Truth be told, this is merely a preview of the album’s center piece, the two parts of “Empty Roads”- but before we can get there, “Gone Away” plays the part of an obligatory acoustic ballad that will sweep you off your feet with its simple but beautiful inclusion of strings, following strong lyrics like “When I can’t shake those younger days/When we all sang with one voice, and one voice led the way”. The song is a natural example of Wishing Well’s beautiful side, and with that out of its system, we finally make room for the album’s absolutely massive closing track, “Empty Roads Pt. II.”
If part one was an intriguing guitar-based cut that seems almost experimental in its place, it was merely paving the way for the Explosions in the Sky sized finale that just might take you by surprise and rank as one of the best songs of 2014. The two songs are both lyrically and musically connected, but as to how, I’m afraid the band and I must leave that up to you. Just know that as soon as the chill-inducing call of “As I walk along this empty, cold road/Blinded by the sleet and snow/I wonder if I’ll ever come home/Back to what I used to know” starts, it leaves an impression that is meant to last far after listening. There’s something about a song like “Empty Roads Pt. II” that refuses to leave you, at least until you finally give in and press play again. Ultimately, Dreamtigers’ debut LP walks the line between the work of a fresh, up-and-coming artist and a collective of seasoned veterans, crafted as an experiment sure to exceed expectations of previous listeners and newcomers alike. If we’re at all lucky, Wishing Well will see a “part two” of its own very, very soon.