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We Love The New Wave: Album Review of ‘Jungle/Surf’ by Pill Wonder

In Album Reviews, Worldwide on March 16, 2010 at 5:28 pm

Review of ‘Jungle/Surf’ by Pill Wonder. Wild Animal Kingdom (Tape, sold out) / Underwater Peoples (Vinyl), Seattle, Washington. 2009/10.

Pill Wonder - Jungle/Surf

Pill Wonder is the recording moniker of Seattle, Washington resident Will Murder. According to his last.fm page, “he records all of his music on his 2001 Compaq Presario computer with an SM-58” and “he was born in 1987”. After listening to Jungle/Surf, I am nothing short of amazed by the incredible accomplishments he has been able to make with such limited resources and at such a young age. He has captured a timeless feeling that the album’s title perfect spells out: the natural busyness of the jungle and laid back feeling of the beach and going surfing. To be fair, I have never actually been to the jungle, other than vicariously through the Discovery Channel’s stunning Planet Earth Series, and though I have been to the beach (I am from New Jersey, so I have been to the “shore”) I have never actually gone surfing. The remarkable feat achieved by Will is that it does what so much of the recent surge in beach & surf related music tries to do, with great skill; it puts you somewhere you may have never been before, but you know exactly how you wish it felt to be there. That idealization of nature and the natural is evident throughout Jungle/Surf.

The album starts off with “Fogg Eater”–which I associate in mind with Coney Island during the summer— and the Jungle/Surf vibe. Starting out with just an acoustic guitar then the addition some rhythmic instruments, then there is Beach Boys-esque harmonizing that comes back several times throughout the album. Later, it even incorporates a melodic drumming I associate with Jamaica (mostly because of the episode of the American version of The Office where the boss Michael returns from Jamaica playing “hot, hot, hot”).

The music on the entire album is consistently interesting. Each song blends into the other, through the great use of recorded samples, which emphasizes the natural feel of this record. The vocals are often “sweet”–but definitely not “cutesy”–and occasionally buried in fuzz, but not in the garage-rock/pop style you may be used to. The lyrics are not always easy to decipher, which seems to be somewhat the intention, but the ones that I can understand are great.

The best example of this comes from what might be the catchiest and poppiest song on the album, the fourth track, entitled “Wishing Whale” (check out the great video here). At first the lyrics are totally undecipherable and just make for a really great melody, but then the fuzz eases a little and the idealization of nature and the natural comes pouring earnestly through with the repetition of the line “we love the new wave,” which I see as being more referential to literal ocean waves then some sort of new wave of music/culture (though it very well might refer to the latter or both or neither). The fuzz fades back in and this beautiful and idealized thought gets taken with the current.

But this is not a strictly oceanic affair, the natural busyness I associate with the jungle can be found throughout the album, but most notably in the second track, entitled “What We Know”. It starts off where the first track left off, the sound of kids playing but as the drum beat comes in the sounds of the jungle come in full fledged. From what I can hear there are frogs, maybe a tiger, an elephant, some birds, and some other wildlife. But I am not afraid of getting mauled by a bear, for example, but rather I feel like I’m spending a lazy afternoon in the jungle. The track that follows, entitled “Being Bored”, has a great guitar line and lyrics that sum up the whole “idealized” vibe of the album, which is roughly “when all you got to do is what you wanna do.” If this song was created out of boredom then I’m feeling incredibly envious of this guy’s “bored” ambition.

The rest of the album keeps the Jungle/Surf theme going strong, with the Beach Boys-like “Wasted By the Screen” (great use of recorder on this one) and the upbeat positivity and catchyness of “Gone to the Market” (which has the great line “and they look you in the eye and they look you in the eye and they look you in the eye and they look you in the eye and yeah look away, look away”). The next and seventh track, entitled “Family Vacation” is really pleasant, with reverb and echo heavy vocals. This, like “What We Know”, is more mellow, less busy but still fantastic. The final track, “When I Look Back” could be a Real Estate song, and I mean that with great respect for both Real Estate and Pill Wonder. It’s a mostly acoustic song with the sound of the ocean in the background. It really makes you feel like you’ve just spent your afternoon at some sort of Jungle-Beach and now you’re feeling that the day is finally done, but it’s fine. Jungle/Surf, like an idealized view of life, is beautiful and over much too quickly.

I put this on, finished it, put it right back on, and then bought it. I strongly recommend that you do the same. Purchase the 12″ here from Underwater Peoples or from his blog, Previously, Wild Animal Kingdom had released Jungle/Surf on cassette but it has since sold out. I recommend you check out any of their other releases, especially the Monthly Mix-Tape Club which has been consistently great. Enjoy.

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