The following is an album review written by Pete Sanfilippo, founding member of ‘Kingston Live.’
When The Wilderness took the stage at Skeleton Park Arts Festival in the summer of 2019, they were met with uproarious applause. People got up from their lawn chairs and their picnic blankets to dance and sing along in the late afternoon sunlight. There was a palpable feeling of belonging in the air, like a group of high school friends reuniting after months apart. This was the context in which I got to know The Wilderness; they felt like the kind of band you enjoy on a summer day or a warm evening on a patio, a can of beer perspiring in your hand.
So, when The Wilderness dropped their single, “If I Have to Die” in August 2020, it brought up a lot of questions. With its atomic blast artwork and doomy themes in stark contrast to previous releases like, “Dancing in the Dive Bars” and “Virginia Sapphire,” it became clear that something significant was happening to the Kingston-based band of “bruvs.” At the same time, the world is in a different place than it was when they made their earlier music. Would Until Tomorrow continue to fit into that sun-drenched setting of a 2019 summer evening, or was this a preview of a more morose, world-weary band?
Within the first two minutes of the new album, fans will notice the musical scale of the album – there’s a refinement to The Wilderness’s sound and explorations beyond their previous scope on Until Tomorrow. The album’s opener, “Where I Roam,” taps into Wilder Mind-era Mumford & Sons to warm up the album over a low heat, swelling from frontman Jonas Lewis-Anthony’s lone vocals to a full band rush with duelling electric guitars and sax. They’re painting with familiar brushes, but they’ve honed their technique and from track to track, The Wilderness continues to expand their musical palette. The opening wah-drenched licks of “The Silence” bring a distinctly 70s flair and groove to a song that could have sounded much like The Lumineers with an acoustic ensemble. “Closer,” on the other hand, turns down the lights in the bar, giving room for shimmering guitar and reedy saxophone.
But it’s not until tracks 4 and 5, “Graveyard” and “Pick You Up,” that the record starts to capture the energy of the sextet’s live shows: high-energy, radio-ready rock electrifying laments of complicated relationships and drinks in the Limestone City. It’s this moment where The Wilderness sound most familiar, with “Pick You Up” feeling like the spiritual successor to the band’s popular 2018 ode to Kingston, “Dancing in the Dive Bars.” The elements that have made The Wilderness so notable going into Until Tomorrow, like their infectious melodies and rich instrumentation, are placed front and centre.
However, the levity of these tracks is short lived. Across its first half, the subject matter of Until Tomorrow feels somewhat par for the course for The Wilderness. Not to say that they’ve ever been afraid to dig into heavier topics (2018’s “American Rage” settled that), but they take their time getting you comfortable before they get personal. “Citalopram Blues,” an ode to antidepressants and over-prescription in the face of seemingly unending social unrest, makes the first move. The tracks stabbing guitars and a heartbeat bass line maintain the energy of the previous two tracks, but a weight and grit starts closing in.
“I used to feel something but now there’s nothing at all, so increase my dose to the most it can go.”
With the amount of timely issues and discussions enrapturing our society right now, it can feel frivolous to make art that doesn’t take a stance and say something relevant, and the second half of Until Tomorrow feels like The Wilderness embracing the moment. Placed at the album’s heart, “You, the Ocean” faces the existential crisis of climate change with one of lead singer Jonas Lewis Anthony’s most soulful performance to date, as piano chords rush over the track like floodwater washing over the coastline.
By the time “If I Have to Die” charges into the record, they’ve given listeners time to embrace the scope of the album. The song is the culmination of all the anxiety and angst across the album, and on top of just straight-up being one of the best written and catchiest tracks on the record, “If I Have to Die” poses the Until Tomorrow’s biggest question: with everything happening around us, where and when do our own desires and experiences matter? Or, as the lyrics so eloquently posit, “Who cares about your broken heart? The world you love is falling apart.”
To be honest, I got hung up on this line listen after listen. The question of intention would continually come to mind. What are the songs conveying without the band’s personal context? How does Until Tomorrow respond to its question?
It responds with “Twenty-Five.”
“Twenty-Five” tells the story of a friend of Jonas’s in UK and his tragic passing at age 17 (Note: Listen to episode 22 of the Kingston Live podcast where Jonas details the full backstory), and the sheer amount of heart put into that track beautifully carries the burden of the story. “Twenty-Five” sees the “bruvs” all grown up and merging their influences to exceptional affect. Piano and finger-picked guitar swell to snare drum rushes, merging with Jonas’s impassioned performance to give the subject matter the scale and force it deserves, making “Twenty-Five” a lofty high point on the record. But beyond the music itself, the song expresses such a personal and human experience that resonates beyond the day-to-day drama everyone experiences. The song says that they care about their broken hearts, as well as the broken hearts of the people close to them.
The album’s penultimate song, “Settled Up,” feels like the conclusion to this thread. It’s about a cathartic realization of finding peace and self-improvement in the madness, bringing to light the human moments across the album, like the reference in “Twenty-Five” to visiting the family of a late friend, or just taking the time to support someone you care about in “Pick You Up.” At the end of the day, you just keep living. The album’s message seems to be that you can choose to just keep working towards making the positive changes in your life that are within your power. Keep learning, supporting when you can, and working “until tomorrow.” Then repeat.
This isn’t the record some would likely have expected from The Wilderness, but it feels like the album the band needed to make right now. There’s plenty to enjoy in the singles alone or a surface-level listen, but dig into the whole record from front-to-back and you’ll find a band putting their earnest struggles out into the open as they look to find their place in an increasingly complicated world, all the while finding some beauty in that chaos. Until Tomorrow is an album with a lot to say, and the honest expressions on this record will continue to be relevant by the time they can take to the stage once again.
Pete Sanfilippo is a native Kingstonian and founding member of Kingston Live, a volunteer-run organization dedicated to exposing and elevating the many local artists, live music venues and experiences that make our city Canada’s First Capital of Music. Pete’s commentary can occasionally also be heard on the Kingston Live podcast, available on most audio podcast and streaming platforms.