Music Reviews
A Billion Little Lights

Wild Pink A Billion Little Lights

(Royal Mountain Records) Rating - 7/10

With each passing release, Wild Pink has settled into a mood that feels practical yet reflective and atmospheric. There's something comfortable about how the New York trio approaches their music, and their third LP, A Billion Little Lights, is no exception. Now, that might seem like a backhanded compliment at first glance, but that warm, snug feeling that permeates in their blissful heartland rock sounds natural and spontaneous. When lead songwriter John Ross alludes to the rustling of leaves and the passing of trains, you believe he's been there. It's a zen-like state that he and his bandmates barely disrupt through these ten tracks that sound uniform in tempo and tone.

At first, it might seem like A Billion Little Lights closely echoes the warm and inviting atmosphere of 2018's Yolk in the Fur. But once the soft-sliding guitars and vibrant drum patterns of album opener The Wind Was Like a Train kick in, it's readily apparent that they've upped their production ambitions. That album sounded grand, yet a little held back by its bedroom production, though making modest strides is what's allowed them to get to this point. If taking that step would've been premature, then here, they've built the confidence to match the airier, meat-and-potatoes rock of classic rock veterans like Tom Petty and Dire Straits.

Working with producer and engineer David Greenbaum, Ross uses a wide array of studio instruments and equipment so these can songs can take flight. On Bigger Than Christmas, he's sensitive to the passage of time and how it affects his choices over a backdrop of soaring violins and bright synths. But, for the most part, Ross is in singer-songwriter mode—as if the sonic accouterments present merely complement what are intimate moments in his lonesome playing arpeggiated chords. Once The Shining But Tropical kicks in after a snappy crossfade, we're reminded of the album's vastness. Emulating artists like Crowded House and Peter Gabriel, Ross flirts with mid-80's rock balladry—feeling unworthy of a former lover to which he sends his best wishes.

In the past decade or so, we've seen a resurgence in indie artists embracing this boomer rock aesthetic—whether it's the sprawling, genre-bending ambitions of the 1975 or the earnest romanticism of Merchandise. But to his credit, Ross has been more tasteful than most in emulating his influences. Besides, he's mainly stuck to classic Americana signifiers since day one, which is why it feels so comforting to be in the presence of those sun-kissed guitars and midtempo rhythms on songs like Amalfi and Family Friends (the latter backed by the lush vocals of Ratboys' Julia Steiner). Maybe not so much in the shameless Tom Petty-isms of You Can Have it Back—which will have you reaching out for that worn-out bargain CD copy of Into the Great Wide Open to compare—but it just shows that Ross has nailed this sound down to a science.

Minding Ross' keen sense of ear, A Billion Little Lights is an unvarnished rumination on how time changes your perspective on things as you grow older. He's faithful to his musical vision, even as he expands its scope, though there's a fair degree of sameness throughout that makes it a somewhat monochrome listen. Still, it never feels like a chore to weave through Ross' honest, personal songwriting. If anything, he's usually daydreaming. He's patient yet a little more hopeful about what tomorrow brings. And during these uncertain times, it's an attitude we could all do well to adopt.