We Were Wild by Esmé Patterson

Release date: November 11, 2016
Label: Xtra Mile Recordings

Esmé Patterson’s last album Woman to Woman was a witty, high-concept piece of work that was ultimately more memorable for what it was (a set of songs told from the point of view of famous female characters from other songs) than for Patterson’s tunes themselves. Although that album was a breakthrough of sorts for the singer/guitarist who was once part of the indie folk group Paper Bird, We Were Wild sounds like the big one; the kind of record that actually tops charts and gets played on mainstream radio.

There are (at least) two main reasons for the potential of the album; where the concept on Woman To Woman expressed Patterson’s feelings at one remove, subsuming her own personality within the characters she played and creating a kind of ironic distance from the listener, the songs here feel personal, direct and have the kind of universality that comes from tackling big themes – love, loss, desire – in a soulful but not intensely anguished/soul-crushing kind of way. The directness of the songs is aided by a bright, clear sound that varies between the slightly new wave-ish feel of lead single ‘No River’ and the laid-bare country-tinged melancholy of standout ballad ‘Guadalupe’ – which brings us to the second, most important point; these are good songs.

Setting the accessible, catchy tone is opener ‘Feel Right’, an energetic, pop song with a garage band feel, kind of like Cat Power playing Tom Petty with a pinch of rockabilly reverb and sweetened with easy-to-agree-with sentiments (‘no-one wants to love someone who don’t love you’). The aforementioned ‘No River’ follows; again an extremely catchy song that perfectly judges the balance between poppy accessibility and personality. Comfortably on the right side of bland, it nevertheless wouldn’t be out of place on Radio 2, while Patterson manages to infuse enough feeling into her effortless-sounding performance (her singing is impeccable throughout the album) to bring lines like ‘I can’t sit still cos I’m no mountain’ to life.

In fact, a vital part of what makes We Were Wild an artistic success is that what could be platitudes rarely come across as trite or shopworn and, despite the mixed-to-miserable feelings expressed throughout the album, it’s an upbeat, effervescent work on the whole. Which could of course be irritating; but in fact the mournful songs, notably ‘Guadalupe’ and the extremely rueful ‘Wantin’ Ain’t Gettin’ (the most country-ish song on the album, but also one of the catchiest and most beautifully sung) have more than enough substance and feeling to give the album balance, however chart-friendly it is. Which can only be a good thing if it does end up getting the airplay it deserves.

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