Perhaps it’s best to begin with what is one the most beautiful album titles I’ve seen in years: I Could Walk On Water, But I’d Rather Part The Sea. Let’s unpack that a second and look at what it drives at. “I could do something pretty cool that will wow and amaze and possibly frighten any passers-by, but I prefer something more difficult so I can walk through the mud while doing so.” This is why this is also the most precise album title I’ve seen in years.
What Dressed Like Wolves colluders Rick and Matt created is epigraph to growth. It’s honest, for better or worse, with a deep sense of quiet-house intimacy saturating each song. The vocals trickle in and out, drafting words of defeating events and hard-won peace. A forced subterranean element underrides this record. The songs come from a humble point, always looking up from the bottom. Ankle deep in watery emotional silt, Rick hides in the deep, trudging onward far below the surface. The waves of instrumentation lap over the vocals frequently, and the words slip into the periphery and lurk, jabbing in a phrase here and there, until the waters calm and out his voice reappears like a boulder at the bottom. Hitched over a lilting guitar hangs this light little voice. Pops and creaks and organs and the occasional drum fill the slim population of musicality. This is a fatal record, very bony and structural. It taps into the well-spring of survival, the place where the self has seen its mortality and seeks a reappraisal of former treasures. Its sparse nature and emphasis on poetics lend a developmental feel to the record, not in the technical sense, but in the metaphoric. The 4-track honesty of long takes and floor creakity-crackety add a diary setting, disconnected and sometimes contrary narratives trying to sort out their differences. There’s an ache for growth, a yearning to get far enough away from things that happened so maybe they’ll make sense, as well as a sense of struggle, an optimism wrestling with damage. The songs bear fresh scars, but in the end they constantly reaching out towards redemption, a renewal, if only enough distance could be put between now and whatever waits ahead. There’s an overarching vibe of finally not being afraid of the world, but still flinching when it swings. Plodding through the muddy bottom, the theme hints at submission: the songs know where they’re at, and know where they’re going, so there’s little gained from lamenting it.
Tracks “Messengers” and “How Bright You Burn” express the aftermath of fucking up, the parting of waters and exposing the murky bed underneath. Within “Glass and Grain” is triumph, the breakpoint that allowed water to be moved or walked on at will. Framing the constant glass-swallowing we all find ourselves participating in stands the strength of knowing how to do it, the mastery of knowing that nothing hurts forever. Contrasting is “Cancel The Sky,” which talks extensively of the push-pull of good things done versus disappointing things that insist on happening. “Redemption” carries a sense of accomplishment, a liberation in the inevitability of mud, and that the waters still part no matter what inspires them to. “The Daydreamers” finishes the record with a long dreamy expedition into soundscapes. It sets a fitting end, looking forward with renewed goals and a reconfiguration of what’s good to have, what’s right to ask for.
What Rick has written and Matt has recorded is an absolutely accurate depiction of the general coming-to-terms that strikes every twenty-something. They completely nail it in terms of the quiet times, the reflective periods when we think about the awful things we’ve seen, done, and had done to us. To be sure we all deal with those things in many different ways, and I can confirm that what Dressed Like Wolves created tells no lies and shades no elements. It’s pretty, it’s angry, it’s tired, it’s pensive, but most importantly it’s optimistic. Well done, gentlemen.