The Wails | Via (Self-Released)

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Sometimes CDs just show up out of the blue, with no fanfare or advance publicity, and turn out to be nice surprises. The Wails are a Brooklyn quartet led by vocalist Caroline Edelen; remaining band members Tom Hagen (a former St. Louisan), Nick Smith, and Craig Trombino build an awesome wall of sound for Edelen to, well, wail over, which she does exceedingly well. This group is heavily into atmosphere and dark, spooky, churning guitar sounds—but what’s different about them from other bands that traffic in a similar style is the amazing purposefulness in their compositions, and they clearly like utilizing a wider than usual creative palette within their chosen genre.

The Wails clearly know that melody and mood are the most important things to the listener, rather than any particular musician’s instrumental prowess. But they manage to surprise throughout the course of this platter. “This Is All a Lie” begins like a very pleasant indie rock tune with female vocals; texturally interesting guitars and Edelen’s primal moaning near the end alert you that you’re not listening to any formulaic band here. “Dos” ups the creative ante with hypnotic percussion and a thoroughly engaging vocal that blends a bit of Pat Benatar and Siouxsie Sioux with some Sonic Youth–like moments. The balance between Edelen’s powerful voice and the moody instrumentation is dead on, making you sit up and take notice for virtually every tune. “Highway Pirates” is downright gripping, with echoey whispers and ghostly percussion signaling a fascinating track that builds and sustains its mood for over five minutes, firmly establishing Edelen as a truly intriguing new vocalist. And on “Intermission,” we unexpectedly get some Indian drumming, mind-twisting ambient sounds, and snatches of primal wailing—freaky, man!

“Doctors and Cigarettes” is a swift about-face, a relatively “normal” tune with a pleasant lead vocal; similarly, “Crab & a Fish” is downright pretty, with “How can I explain/that you are the only one” being one of the few lyrical phrases easy to key in on. Another surprise comes with the charming male-female vocal duet on “Valentine,” with Edelen’s sweetly feminine turn here barely recognizable as the singer who seems possessed elsewhere. Via is a solid listen throughout, shifting through various moods in a startling, yet never abrasive manner. There’s a keen intelligence at work in this band, and a sense that they think more deeply and maybe even care more than many other musical newbies. The Wails are truly one of the nicest surprises to come along in many months.

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