First Impressions: Male Models by Wilder Maker

It’s rough and rowdy one minute, with a greasy grace emanating from deep down in the groove, then smooth-as-silk soul the next, with dollops of pop, pop-rock and more doled out as well, with the stylistic jiu jitsu coming off in seamless fashion thanks to the songwriting talents of Wilder Maker’s Gabriel Birnbaum, the band’s deft touches, and a slew of guests who lend their talents. In the press release for the album, Birnbaum explained, “I’ve been keeping an ever-expanding playlist of songs that I never want to skip, with all of these different voices back to back. I wanted to make a record that sounded like a playlist in this way; it became a kind of songwriting challenge for me.”

The album opens with “Letter of Apology,” a rollicking ode to depression, anxiety and more. “I’m sorry i was late to your party where everyone was so effortless,” he sings, “I was staring at a wall for no discernible reason counting all the thumbtack holes/staring at a nightmare bug who saw the light and froze.” 

“The Professional” trades those grimy guitars for the clean beats of neo soul and Birnbaum’s Dylanesque delivery for the delectable vocals of Felicia Douglass. That’s followed by the short (but not slight) confessional “New Anxiety,” which features Mutual Benefit (aka Jordan Lee) on vocals. “Static,” with V.V. Lightbody up front, delves into how some distract themselves from life through booze and fights. “Surfers Trace,” which again features Mutual Benefit, features an epiphany of sorts: “I have to change my life or be forever washed away.” 

The barreling “All Power Must Remain Hidden” shifts the focus from the mirror to the window, with Birnbaum gazing at the power dynamics at play in life: “What men fear the most is the end of rules and anyone who knows can rule em.” “Scam Likely” visits the rollicking tone of “Letter,” while “Silver Car”—featuring Katie Von Schleicher on lead vocals—coasts in from the great beyond. “5 Train” conjures a Josh Rouse vibe while spinning a tale of unrequited love; it’s quite cool. The Counting Crows’ Adam Duritz steps to the microphone for “Oh, Anna,” which has the feel of a lost classic from the 1970s. 

Katie Von Schleicher returns for the fast-paced “Against Numbers,” which turns a basketball game into a metaphor for life: “who you are when the stakes are high/is who you are in every eye.” The album comes to a close with the stark “Jason,” about meeting up with someone who’s more a brother than friend, but his concern causes the pal to rebuff him. “I catch his eyes, see all the anger there/he smiles but there’s no light there.” 

The album does indeed play out something akin to the only playlist I rely on – Apple Music’s weekly New Music Mix, which recommends recent releases. But instead of me clicking “next” 30 seconds into a tune, which I do more often than not, I’ve played this album all the way through countless times over the past few weeks. That first listen led to a second, then a third and fourth, and more. It’s well worth seeking out.

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