The three singers of New Hampshire quartet Wild Light have voices right out of the late ‘90s, earnest tenors propelled by yearning. More precisely, they sound like Semisonic’s Dan Wilson — but don’t hold it against them. Wild Light is a little more scruffy than Semisonic; they’re somewhere between that band’s innocent power-pop and the Old ‘97s’ rootsier edge. Assorted synthesizers ground the band in 2009 (or 1983, really), but that ‘90s sound — arguably the closest thing power-pop has had to a full-fledged moment in the sun since its ‘70s heyday with acts such as Big Star and the Cars — is unmistakable.
Wild Light’s crisp debut, the forthcoming March 3 release “Adult Nights,” hearkens back a few years with its sonic fullness, as well; it’s that rare major label release that manages to leave the factory without its dynamics chopped off by a hack engineer. (The sure hand of veteran pop-rock producer Rob Schnapf, who’s worked with Badly Drawn Boy and Elliott Smith, is reassuringly felt behind the boards). Still, the band does have some of that serious rock star air that comes hand-in-hand with a record deal — to their credit, the deadpan tone works for the bright, bubbly music, which might’ve spilled out into so much froth in the wrong hands.
“I know I let you down,” goes one line in “Canyon City,” and then “Let’s get out” — sentiments yellowing on many a songwriter’s back pages, but also ones that never seem to age. Most of all, “Adult Nights” reminds me of an L.A.-bred version of The Thrills, an Irish band whose hearts and lyrics lie in some imagined west coast youth. At a recent show at LA’s El Rey Theatre, the band’s set hit a highpoint with “California On My Mind,” a track that opens with the line “F*** today, f*** San Francisco, f*** California” – a decidedly less optimistic outlook on the Golden State.
But it was tempered by an exuberant performance as they played with the confidence and tightness of a much more seasoned act. “Adult Nights” is a bit wistful, a bit romantic, and the guitars ring out as clear and true as the vocals. It is, in other words, a big, wet, rock ‘n’ roll kiss — if one that’s probably too shy to slip you the tongue.