Underground pop should not be overlooked. It’s often experimental, pushing the boundaries of Top 40 tropes while still delivering head-bobbing beats and catchy choruses. Wild Ones, a five-piece from Portland, Oregon, have perfected this: Their latest album, Mirror Touch, is a glittering, glowing assemblage of pleasure-inducing –yet meaningful – synth-pop songs.
Released via indie label Topshelf Records, Mirror Touch balances reality and reflection. Tracks like “Wanna Be Your Man” and “Standing In the Back at Your Show” are confrontative love songs, while opening track “Paresthesia” is introspective and self-aware: “Lost in the crowd every place I go/Feeling sorry for myself when I’m home alone.” It’s a dreamy combination that has tracks swaying between sensuality and honesty, both lyrically and instrumentally.
“Paresthesia” is probably the most energetic track; the rest of Mirror Touch is sultry and frankly, kind of sad. Despite the occasional big beats and semi-sweet verses, the album is far from party pop. It seems more like the soundtrack to driving home after a long night out.
And on the way, singer Danielle Sullivan is caught between feelings: grasping for attention, demanding love, searching for self-assuredness. On “Love + Loathing,” she sings, “My love and loathing, they always collide/And I can’t tell the difference between them tonight.” It’s almost off-putting for a pop release with such straightforward structure – any of the tracks could easily be the next single, and no song is much longer than the next. But Sullivan’s soft soprano doesn’t need to be backed by brooding instrumentals or long, explorative tracks to get a point across.
Overall, Mirror Touch is definitely darker than the band’s first full-length, but it’s a rational follow-up to the band’s Heatwave EP, which featured some of Wild Ones’ most somber-sounding songs.
It’s also largely the band’s instrumentalism that’s evolved –Wild Ones use synths more substantially than ever on this album, stepping away from their earlier, more simplistic approach. While they shed the more youthful sound of their debut album, Keep It Safe, Mirror Touch layers melodies in a more accessible way, like on the CHVRCHES-like intro on “Do You Really.” It’s so seamless that it’s sometimes hard to pick instruments apart, even when a guitar makes its way in.
And while their methods aren’t groundbreaking, standout tracks like “Invite Me In” and “Wanna Be Your Man” are unmistakably Wild Ones’ works. “No Money” brings the album to a poignant end, both satisfying listeners and leaving them wanting more. Mirror Touch is an indie pop gem that’s as thought-provoking as it is indulgent.
By Carina Vo