I wish I had heard Wilderness only one time before writing this review. There’s nothing more disappointing than hearing a superb record consumed by its flaws upon repeated listens, but sadly this is the fate subjected to Midas Falls’ latest take on electronic-tinged post-rock. The real shame is that the band has stumbled onto a winning formula, blending guitar-driven post-rock in the vein of Explosions in the Sky with glitchy, almost-trip hop beats to create a beautiful backdrop for their vocalist. Factor in Elizabeth Heaton’s haunting and powerful vocals and Wilderness should be an excellent release, right?
Well, not quite. There’s no doubt that individually, the components of Midas Fall’s sound are superb. The title track sees Heaton, guitar, and even the percussion take turns driving the song forward, each restrained yet simultaneously impressive. In particular, Heaton and the guitar complement each other extremely well to create the record’s most pressing build, climaxed with Heaton shrieking “Run” repeatedly, each more impassioned than the previous. Elsewhere, ‘Fight First’ steps completely into the electronic world, with the guitar playing only the faintest lick far in the background, and ends with a thoroughly captivating keyboard solo. The acoustic tremolo picking of ‘Bpd’ builds into a climax of restrained electric guitar and minimalistic electronic beeps, further example of how well the band’s core sounds together. Heaton’s vocals during this climax are overshadowed by the other elements, allowing her performance to feel well-integrated.
Unfortunately, this is rarely the case in Wilderness. Excuse the poor personification but imagine that the various elements of the album—guitar, vocals, percussion, etc.—were tossed into a wilderness of mediocrity, burdened with the task of finding the excellence that surrounds them. Too often the vocals take the lead here and the other elements sit content to follow; the codified lost in the wilderness trope guarantees that our aural protagonists will end up exactly where they began and will repeat the cycle for the next round. Too often the vocals here dominate the supporting cast, and despite the beauty and power of Heaton’s gothic-tinged vocals, she never quite captures the crescendos or decrescendos of post-rock. The majority of tracks follow similar builds in typical post-rock fashion, with Heaton giving melodically indistinct performances. Not only, then, do these tracks, sans ‘Fight First,’ ‘Bpd,’ and ‘Wilderness,’ feel similar, circling past the same structures with indistinguishable performances from Heaton, their beaten path never quite makes it out of their wilderness to the promised land.
Don’t mistake this criticism as a condemnation of the record, however. Listening to Wilderness is a hike through a rainy forest of post-rock. There are small personal gripes one may have with the specifics, and some may take issue with the constant downpour of Heaton’s vocals. But in spite of it all, there’s undeniable beauty to be appreciated here that carries the experience, and the brief cracks of sunshine are genuinely brilliant. Let’s just hope the next time around, the rain is a light drizzle that adds to the atmosphere instead of dominating it.