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Meet The Wanderlust (or Why I Fell For A Comeback Album From A Band I’d Missed Back In The Day)

Mark Smotroff recognizes a good hook when he hears it…

One of the frustrating parts about being a musician, music fanatic/record collector and reviewer is becoming painfully aware of the absolute wealth of incredible music that is out there which doesn’t get mainstream attention it deserves. I actually have set up a subsection of my collection for not only “one hit wonders” but “no hit wonders.”  These are the groups who have put out recordings that never really realized their potential yet which I’ve grown attached to and have kept them in my collection. Some of these groups are still around in some form or another. Some have disappeared entirely. But the music lives on…

What are some of these bands,” you ask? Off the top of my head, let me count the ways that are not Big Star: Interview (from the late ‘70s/early ‘80s), The Glitterhouse (from 1968), Superdrag, The Grays, Idle Wilds and The Sugarplastic and Creeper Lagoon are some that come to mind from the 1990s or thereabouts. The list goes on.  So many great albums by fine bands. Should-have-been-hits that were here and gone in a flash. Some got on the radio. Some you heard about by word-of-mouth.  

Some of these artists persevered and put out other albums independently. Others imploded and went on to do other things with their lives. And every now and then, one of these groups magically reappear. Creeper Lagoon did just that several years back playing a fantastic reunion show here in San Francisco. 

One such group from the East Coast which I’d never heard of up until recently is Wanderlust.  They have reunited and have new album out that really implanted an earworm in me.   

From Philadelphia, in the ‘90s they’d apparently opened for The Who and released one critically acclaimed album on RCA called Prize. Yet, they were dropped from the label before they could finish their second album. Each of the key members seem to have gone on to great successes releasing solo albums, co-writing Grammy winning hits for other artists, opening for Robert Plant and Alison Krauss, touring as a member of Brian Wilson’s band and more. 

Called All A View, when I put on their new CD I wasn’t prepared for such a fully formed rich recording, especially from an indie release. Chockfull of great rock songwriting festooned with glistening power-pop-fringe, the album is infused with hooks and melodies for days. At times it feels like Badfinger channeling Squeeze with the muscle of Television. But then it feels like Big Star with the free-falling abandon of The Dukes of Stratosphear. At another turn suddenly the lights go out and you turn off your mind, relax and float downstream on a green tambourine with R.E.M., Matthew Sweet, The Grays, The Posies, Neil Young and Ireland’s Pugwash along for the ride. 

From the opening one-two-punch of the trippy title track followed by the ripping “Black Current Jam”  Wanderlust starts out strong. But then the album keeps giving. “Something Happens” feels like some lost Paul McCartney track from around the time of Flaming Pie (note: the band apparently got its name from the Macca tune of the same name from the Tug Of War album). By the time you get to the lovely and haunting “Two Million Pieces” you realize this album is a complete song-cycle meant to be listened to end to end.  “Trick Of The Light” feels like an wondrous outtake from Emitt Rhodes‘ tremendous comeback album several years ago by way of Seals & Crofts’ (“Summer Breeze”) as if played by The Grays (side note: I do wonder if the painterly album cover for Wanderlust is somehow an homage to The Grays’ album Ro Sham Bo?).

The great thing about a recording like All A View is that you can listen to it on the surface as just a fine fine song collection. Or, if you are like me and appreciate bands which have internalized their influences on such a sweet micro-level that it gets fun to play a game of “spot the influence.” 

But perhaps the best thing about an album like this is that in addition to it making me want to play the album over and over, it also makes me want to track down the band’s earlier albums (which I plan to do!).  

I was so impressed with this album I wrote back to their publicist about the possibility of hearing the vinyl version. Amazingly, not only did they send me a copy but it arrived super quickly (the postal service can still work!). I’m happy to report that the pressing is solid. The sturdy black vinyl is quiet and well centered. And the music which I suspect was made in some hybrid of digital and analog sources sounds very good overall. The low end and mid ranges in particular benefit from the playback on my system. Listening to All A View on LP, the soundstage is a more focused and three dimensional feeling than on the CD (and the compact disc sounds quite good as they go).

Songs like “Something Happens” benefit really well from the vinyl edition with the acoustic guitars popping beautifully and the little percussion touches and electric guitar flourishes standing out in the mix. “Two Million Pieces” sounds somehow even more haunting and intimate on LP than the CD if that is possible. Definitely worth getting the vinyl if you can.

It’s nice to be able to recommend both the LP and CD of a new independent released album. Wanderlust’s All A View is a winner.

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