Brooklyn indie-rock trio Yeasayer called it quits in late 2019, and going it alone clearly suits Anand Wilder, who’d shared singing and songwriting duties in the band since its founding more than a decade earlier. Wilder’s first solo album since the split, I Do Not Know My Words, begins with homespun instrumentation, lofty vocals, and catty lyrics worthy of one of the Beatles’ post-breakup albums. “Cheap hooks can not sell if there’s no honesty,” Wilder sings over rudimentary piano toward the start of album opener “Beginning Again,” later sniping that “I can not help your shitty attitude.” The arrangement swells but the song is over in less than two minutes, sounding less like a statement of intent than a late-night sketch.
It’s a relief hearing Wilder in such a relaxed setting. Yeasayer could channel bits of Animal Collective’s psych-folk whimsy and TV on the Radio’s synth-rock grandeur, but they always had a festival-ready professionalism that, by the last couple of albums, seemed to have lost its ability to charm. This 10-song, half-hour set of 1970s-style singer-songwriter music might not signal some bold new way forward, but Wilder’s high, lilting melodies and sun-dappled production sound refreshingly uninhibited. After years of having to please crowds, bandmates, and industry suits, Wilder, a married father of two, sounds here like he has spent the pandemic focusing on himself and his family.
Recording alone in his home studio and accompanying himself on all instruments, Wilder infuses I Do Not Know My Words with an easygoing surface appeal. I’m not sure what the first single “Delirium Passes,” with a title borrowed from James Joyce, is supposed to be about, but it’s overwhelmingly pleasant, with whirring organs, mountain-dew harmonies, and merry-go-round verses. “Fever Seizure,” which hints at a child’s real-life health scare, unfolds with the leisurely elegance of Air or Beach House at their most indebted to Serge Gainsbourg’s 1971 landmark History Of Melody Nelson. The raga-like drone that infuses “Get More Than My Share” offers another intriguing wrinkle.
I Do Not Know My Words does not work as well when it comes to the words. Wilder’s songwriting is sometimes heavy-handed, sometimes undercooked. The title of “I Don’t Want Our Love to Become Routine” must be relatable for any couple in a long-term relationship, but when Paul McCartney wanted to keep the fires of domestic bliss alive, he did not sing about falling asleep on the couch — he wrote “Maybe I’m Amazed.” (OK, also the great, goofy Ram, but still.) Elsewhere, a couple of songs comment directly on COVID-19 a bit clumsily. “I’m waiting for a second wave / To fill another mass grave,” Wilder sings, inhabiting the perspective of a Rikers Island inmate, on “Hart Island,” named for the site of New York City’s potter’s field. It’s a well-meaning experiment, but on such a light-textured album, it’s also a lot.
For anyone who has been following along with Yeasayer this far, I Do Not Know My Words has enough unshowy craft to suggest a promising solo career for Wilder. At the very least, it’s light years ahead of the previous album he released under his own name, 2014’s unfortunate Break Line the Musical. Wilder recently mentioned that he has been listening to Cate Le Bon and Aldous Harding, and at times the DIY deftness signals a kinship with those two leading lights of contemporary art-pop; more often, I Do Not Know My Words merely brings to mind other solo albums by tied-down indie rock vets looking to relight their spark. Not every breakup leads to All Things Must Passbut Wilder’s return is welcome, especially because he sounds so free.
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