I am not much for nostalgia. In fact, I loathe the attempts of big corporations to sell audiences the comfort of something that they used to love, in a repackaged form, as a quick ploy to earn a buck.
Even so, inevitably, I also end up being one of them ol’ men yelling at clouds, remembering days that may not have been better but were certainly more interesting.
I have to admit that, especially recently, I’ve been excavating famous and lost-gems of the 1990s rock boom and have felt, unmistakably, like we’ve been sold a pretty rotten deal at the moment.
Not everything conceived during that period was magnificently good. I am not crazy enough to suggest that. Garth Brooks and Kriss Kross had albums spend longer at number 1 (in the U.S.) than in Nirvana back in 1991.
However, it seemed that, for a while, emotional, heartfelt, risk-taking music was being taken seriously and had, once again, entered the hit parade. This music did not scare mainstream audiences, in fact, a lot of it translated to fans of hip-hop, pop, latino, etc.
Modern rock, as well as its more people-pleasing pop-brethren, rarely stray into the territory of emotional honesty, and we might all be worse for it. Music that is balance, agreeable and formulaic has a better chance of reaching the masses. What a bore that is.
However, a band that has ventured to take a bold step into the unknown and displayed no fear in exposing their darkest fears is Bursting Wonderland. And, because they do this, they win. It’s not just emotional content that makes them worthy of consideration, but also a knack for strong arrangement and well-balanced production on their newly released album David vs Goliath.
Bursting Wonderland’s emotional journey
The album begins with Bursting Wonderland, the song that has also help christen the group. It’s a taster for the themes explored more broadly throughout the record. Bursting Wonderland has overcome adversity, both personally and professionally, in its bid to release a highly professional album.
The song features great distorted guitar riffs that harken back to the musical textures of the original grunge bands. The song talks of mental anguish but celebrates the capacity to rise above it.
The good, high vocal tone, sung comfortably, without strain, floats above the arrangement in most of the songs. It feels most welcome when adding traces of distortion that further emphasize the passionate strength of the songs.
The sincere lyrics about wisdom received following a bad relationship can be found throughout the record. The song Flames deals with similar issues. Here, the vocals are punchier and sound even more comfortable. The guitars add a bluesy lead feel to this autumnal track. It’s well-orchestrated, albeit a stronger crescendo could have been part of the equation.
Followed you is a song about lending trust to someone and being lured astray. The vocals use a lower and quieter tone. It’s a track that is less confrontational, featuring an instrumental that shares a lot to the dark colors of 90s grunge. The use of the backing acoustic guitar and the good production tricks show the amount of work that Bursting Wonderland invested in this work.
Rebels shows an unusual use of rhythm, with a slight Middle-Eastern touch. Here, the vocals are buried a hair under the mix. One can’t help but feel that a more aggressive style of singing suits the group best. The song is about political rebellion, albeit the message is a tad vague. It talks of protests spread all across the world but doesn’t quite spell out the cause. The well-rounded, repetitive elements bring to mind industrial rock.
Chaotic Mind features more of an atonal grungey tone. The lyrics deal with the loss of identity and depression brought on by trauma. Vocals veer towards a darker, more nasal tone. Again, a slightly bigger push might have further helped sell the track. The bass lines are especially tasteful and understated here.
Malanga emphasizes an animated drum sound. The guitars use an eerie, delay effect that gives it an almost a spy-movie feel. Once again, the band relies on 90s alternative-rock dynamics. Vocals, again, are slightly buried in the mix, and the lyrics seem to deal with spiritual themes concerning the nature of the sacred and the profane.
A slower, moodier third act
Summer’s End is the album’s slower, moodier number. Something of a power-ballad, it features mellow guitar arpeggios and bass lines that dance slowly around it. The nice progression and interesting production bring to mind Planet Caravan. It’s a mysterious, open-ended song. The bluesy feel favours the vocals best of all.
It will pass includes a surprising intro featuring bright and pristine vocals followed by simple guitar chords. It may begin as a less rocking number, but it’s the best song on the record. The transition towards a post-grunge tone allows for the vocals to shine as they fly into a higher register. The lyrics are indicative of the theme of the record, as they speak of the desire to numb the pain and eventually overcome it.
In Memory Of is an evocative number built on sombre guitar arpeggios using reverb and delay, as well as creepy sound effects. The bass plays little but adds texture. The lyrics feature ruminations about death. The vocals are understated but compliment the song idea very well—a very strong song.
Universe closes out the album. It’s a dark pop-rock number. The drums find an interesting, wooden tone. Guitars add some classy flourishes as the band goes into territory reminiscent of nu-metal pioneers Incubus. The lyrics may be a tad vague but seem to speak about having to travel without someone while looking to gain wisdom at the end of this journey. “Universe, without you/ Without you was emptiness“.
Overall, Bursting Wonderland has created a compelling listen. David vs Goliath is an ambitious record that, like most works of this nature, tends to pack a lot of information. It is, however, an album that will reward the patient listener, and it’s the work of a formidable group.