When he’s not composing the scores to award-winning indie films, singer-songwriter Keegan DeWitt spends his time creating the glittering, infectious sounds of indie-pop outfit Wild Cub. Along with multi-instrumentalist Jeremy Bullock, drummer Dabney Morris, bassist Harry West, and keyboardist Eric Wilson, the quintet are releasing their debut album, Youth. Originally self-released in 2013, Youth captures the unconstrained abandon of adolescence and young adulthood with its intricate blend of retro beats and iridescent electronics.
Opening with Shapeless, the band immediately demonstrates their talent for creating bottomless and atmospheric sonic spaces, before moving seamlessly on to the anthemic and energetic Colour. By the time Thunder Clatter swings into gear, a very strong sense of the catchy, wide-eyed aesthetic of Wild Cub’s charming mix of synthetic pop, glittering percussion, and bright guitars has been established.
The opening groove of Straight No Turns identifies this track into one of the album’s highlights for me. Taking cues from the neo-soul genre, Straight No Turns constantly moves forward and upwards, as more and more subtle layers are added to the funky, danceable track. While we are fortunately privy to the submerged and wistful sounds of The Water, from here Youth becomes somewhat directionless. Jonti, an upbeat track that is a marked departure from the rest of the album, finally interrupts its repetitive, dream-like current. DeWitt’s soulful vocals fluctuate between twangy, candid spoken-word verse, and a more upbeat manifestation of Johnny Cash’s characteristic drawl.
The album swings from the shimmering guitars of Talking Heads in Wild Light, to the retro bass grooves of 1980s-era Michael Jackson in Summer Fires/Hidden Spells. DeWitt’s background in film composition works well on tracks such as Streetlights, where the songwriter places an enchanting pizzicato string arrangement over an endless keyboard pedal point to conjure visuals of a muted street corner. Two new additions to this re-released exploration of nostalgia, and childlike uninhibitedness effortlessly bring the album to a close. The magically unaffected expressions of adolescent angst in Blacktide are followed seamlessly by the danceable confidence of Lies, like the closing scenes of a John Hughes Film.
Wild Cub are well on their way to cementing a distinct sound that is flexible enough to negotiate the potential for monotony. Already, DeWitt navigates the limited harmonic content of contemporary pop music using complex layers of bright and gritty guitars and synths, capturing the free-spirited frivolity of our youth.