I am turning 40 next week.
It’s a big birthday, and to my credit, I am not freaking out about it. That said, the milestone has me doing a bit of serious reflecting – where I am versus where I thought I’d be, the things I’ve cut from my life in recent years and the things that really are important, and mostly where I go from here. I think a lot of people do this, don’t they? Because no matter how happy we are, I think it’s human nature to always be on the hunt for that next big moment, the new best thing…
Amidst all this ruminating and nostalgia this week, the new Quiet Hounds album, The Wild Hunt, landed on my desk. My admiration for this band hasn’t been much of a secret; I’ve put their music on a bit of a pedestal. I have an insane amount of respect for the way they’ve struck out to create music that is a deep and reflective experience – to challenge the “accepted” way of doing things. They’ve been uncharacteristically quiet as of late, so when The Wild Hunt arrived this week, it was an unexpected surprise and I dove in with pretty high expectations.
The experience begins before the first note even sounds, with the album preamble, where the Hounds set the stage:
Mystical creatures crafting story.
Personified in song and otherworldly experiences.
The Quiet Hounds find themselves amongst the souls, the embers, the lights of a new journey.
A seekers chase, a race to find the questions and to build the answers. The past, the future, the present. They all have their role.
And so the Wild Hunt begins…
A story of hardship, of life and of love. The weary traveler’s tale can only be sung. Though the cities have yearned, the path has been long and the wanderer takes on a life of his own. So listen close for his language is old but his message is burned into the deepest of souls. May you smile or may you cry, be you lifted by the light, share this tale with all kin in sight.
The record is, as I’ve come to expect from this sextet of artists and their compatriots, masterful. A few factoids on the actual recording: the album was tracked in a number of places around Atlanta, including the famed Southern Tracks studio. It was mastered to analog tape, so if you’re a critical listener, you’re going to notice the richer tones and slightly fuzzier sound (with all the percussion and low-end in this record, it sounds pretty fantastic.)
At 33 minutes, it is the longest of the three QH albums. There are nine tracks in total, and eight full-length songs, making it the deepest dive the band has taken to date. That’s not the only difference fans will notice. These songs seem decidedly more personal; while the lyrical poetry that is a QH hallmark is still at play, the fantastical and historical elements that peppered earlier songs are toned down in The Wild Hunt. Instead of an exotic adventure through lands foreign to us, this record is much more of an emotional journey – and if you’ll forgive the metaphor, a lot like real life.
The album begins with an outtake from a later track, and then kicks off hot and heavy with “Good Bones,” a youthful, angsty, rebellious song loaded with clapping, buzzy bass, wicked drumming and cymbal smashes, and even a howling hound. “Wild Light” continues this theme of youth and adventure, of striking out to create yourself, no matter the risk. The horn arrangement that dominates the last minute of this song is pretty damn spectacular.
Things settle down a little bit with the hazy, sing-songy “Cove Noises,” the closest thing to an outright love song I think the band has done. That is followed by a tremendously upbeat “Young Clover,” which could easily be a breakout single for the band, with its snappy staccato percussion and stick-with-you chorus. Is this a song for a lover or a new spouse? A song from a young parent to their child, or an aging parent to their adult child? I can’t quite put my finger on it, but this song just fits here. (Watch a live takeaway of Young Clover here.)
A pair of rockers, “Underwater Listening” and most likely my favorite Quiet Hounds song of all time, “Dangerlove,” team up to form what I’ve been calling the “midlife” songs: doing the work it takes to keep the life you’ve built, fighting for your identity and for those that you love, questioning your decisions, and pushing through the tough times. [Aside: Word from the QH camp is that “Dangerlove” barely made the cut for the record, so I have to say a little “thank you” to the band for bringing it to life.]
If this record is the tale of a life’s journey, then the closing two songs are reflective, looking back at life, teaching lessons to those of us yet to get to those later years. “Stand and Stare” is the carpe diem anthem, the one that chides us with quiet snaps not to waste and to not be held back, with a particular warning for our technology-obsessed society. “Making time to listen is an accident / we fall into our boxes, so hollow / Making time to turn away and lift our heads into the atmosphere/ oh, I follow.” The capstone of the album is “Weathervane,” an orchestral number rich with strings and timpani that reminds us that wherever our wild hunts may take us, we must seek out the things that truly bring us joy and comfort. It reminds me of Whitman, telling us “In things best known to you, finding the sweetest, strongest, lovingest/ Happiness, knowledge, not in another place, but this place, not for another hour but this hour.”
The Wild Hunt reveals another dimension of this mysterious band of brothers, the next phase of the continuing evolution of Quiet Hounds. They’ve made an album that allows their audience to find a bit of themselves in every song. It’s that type of emotional connection that makes art the most meaningful, and that – at least for this fan – makes The Wild Hunt the best of what Quiet Hounds have created so far.
And as for me, I’m feeling a little inspired. I’m thinking that 40 might be my best decade yet.
The Wild Hunt will be released on August 9 to the public, coinciding with Quiet Hounds opening for Rodrigo y Gabriela at Chastain Park in Atlanta. For you vinyl enthusiasts, the album was also recently cut in Nashville, so expect an actual record to be available within the next few months.
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