I don’t think that culture changes just because of a single artist or any record they might release, but the buzz surrounding the eponymous new album by Leland and the Silver Wells definitely has the potential to move the needle of at least one element of the music world in a direction significantly different than anything we’ve witnessed before. Normally I’m hesitant to get on these kinds of bandwagons, but after listening to the Silver Wells’ latest record, I couldn’t help but get a little eager to see what sort of crater this album is going to make. Leland Ettinger is one of the smartest voices in pop, and this record only further cements her status as an icon of modern indie rock.
Sprawling in its design and split into nine elegantly produced tracks, Leland and the Silver Wells is the third album from Ettinger and company and the first in over ten years. Although it’s constructed in a larger than life fashion, this isn’t a record that makes for intimidating listening thanks to its thoughtful, relaxed vibe and the vocal dexterity of Ettinger. The best way I can describe this piece is as a journey into the mind of a songwriter in the midst of a watershed moment in her aesthetical evolution, and even though it’s rough in certain places, the gravity of its material requires close listening and attention from beginning to end.
Commercial interests are a non-factor for Leland Ettinger, and it shows in the music. There’s plenty of opportunities for the Silver Wells to follow some of the broader hooks in their music and devolve into straight radio pop, but they carefully avoid every temptation and never break away from the task at hand. Their focus is something to marvel at, and it’s not something that you can commonly find in a band or a solo artist that has spent the majority of their career under the moniker of pop music or any of its related subgenres.
The great irony is that Ettinger’s disinterest in commercializing her music is exactly what is going to make her rich as the years go by. Much in the tradition of the Velvet Underground, the Silver Wells use a great deal of eclecticism to evoke themes that don’t appear to be as relatable as they are until you dig beneath the surface of their turbulent appearance. There aren’t specific hooks for us to attach ourselves to in these songs, but rather concepts and narratives set out for us to explore on a deeper level ourselves.
Leland and the Silver Wells, both the band and the record, are pushing back against the notion that pop music can’t be ambient, psychedelic and even noisy without being abrasive and insular with a fire that deserves to be commended by everyone in the arts world. The greatest titans in the history of music have been the rebels, the misfits, the ones who refused to follow the rules in their creative path, and Leland Ettinger is no different. I applaud her efforts and can’t wait to hear what she does next.