Forth Wanderers’ new album does adolescent angst justice

by Habib Sabet | 5/8/18 2:20am

Adolescent angst is so pervasive that it’s almost a cliché. Adults everywhere roll their eyes in condescending disdain and chalk outbursts up to “hormones.” For decades, the alienating dismissiveness of exactly this kind of eye-roll has turned younger generations — from the Ramones to Green Day — to music as an outlet for their ignored feelings. It becomes a cycle: more angsty music, more eye rolls, more angsty music ... you get the picture. From the origins of punk in the ’70s and ’80s to the grunge of the early ’90s and right up through Taylor Swift, the path is well-trodden. Much of it, I’d readily admit, deserves the weary scorn and eye-rolls.

This is why the newest album from the Forth Wanderers is so great. “Forth Wanderers,” the second record from the New Jersey natives, is an incredibly refreshing articulation of the struggles of isolation and romance in early adulthood. Formed in Montclair, New Jersey, where its members grew up, Forth Wanderers soon dispersed to colleges across the country. Guitarist Ben Guterl is now in Ohio and vocalist Ava Trilling lives in New York, but the distance doesn’t impede their ability to create music. Guterl sends instrumental ideas to Trilling, who then develops a vocal part and lyrics. The conversational nature of the songwriting process comes through in the album.

“Forth Wanderers” opens with two guitars lazily interlocking in a droning melody, a dialogue that continues throughout the first song, “Nevermine.” Then comes Trilling. Her opening lines, “I am the one you think of when you’re with her,” set the mode she works in for the rest of the album.

Trilling has a hauntingly deadpan delivery that seems to rebuke the string of past lovers she addresses throughout the album. Her voice shares the lackadaisical quality of Guterl’s guitar playing and presents a cool indifference. The lyrics, however, betray a real struggle underneath. On “Not For Me,” for example, Trilling reveals, “I can’t feel the earth beneath my feet/Flowers bloom but not for me.” It’s a combination that perfectly captures the ambivalence of late adolescence, hating pretty much everyone and then bemoaning one’s isolation. Trilling does it beautifully. Her airy voice weaves in and out of the droning riffs of Guterl and fellow guitarist Duke Green, who continues with a steady stream of blasé yet tight riffs throughout. The only departure from is an ethereal acoustic intro to “Be My Baby.”

With all of this inter-instrumental conversation taking place over the unfailing rhythms of drummer Zach Lorelli and bassist Noah Schifrin, the band members seem profoundly in sync with each other on “Forth Wanderers.” They have a definite feeling of their sound and style, so much so that the songs verge slightly on the formulaic. Guterl’s introductory guitar riff defines the melody and mood, leading in Trilling, and the song gives way to an elegantly sprawling dialogue between the band members. Trilling’s lyrics at times fall into a pattern too, as she discusses one exploit with an anonymous lover after another.

None of that is to say that the formula is bad or doesn’t work, and as the band and its constituents grow and develop, so will its music — both stylistically and thematically. “Forth Wanderers” already displays an enormous amount of maturation since the band’s earlier work, and brings much-needed vitality and ingenuity to the indie rock scene. The record is the group’s first since signing with indie and punk powerhouse Sub Pop, and hopefully sparks a long running and successful relationship.