It seems an unspoken rule (and sometimes loudly spoken rule) of music criticism that we writers should be objective. Much like the news media, we’re supposed to interpret the music as impersonally as possible to try to figure out how good it actually is, rather than exploring how we – and thus others – might relate to it. I do that a lot. I try to divorce my own personal feelings about music from the objective criteria – or at least I try to make the objective criteria I focus on fit the feelings I have. And yet sometimes, with some music, in some situations, objectivity is impossible and impartiality is not desirable. For me, right now, Wild Child’s Pillow Talk is an example of such music.
I’ve been going through a break up these last few weeks. It’s been about a month, but the fallout still keeps coming, and it’s turned from amicable to vicious in ways that were difficult to foresee. Of course, that affects how I approach a lot of things, but music in particular is colored by my circumstances. Pillow Talk arrived in my life recently (it’s out officially today) and I initially was listening to it with my detached, critical ear. I was noticing a lot of the formal elements: singers/songwriters/frontpeople Kelsey Wilson and Alexander Beggins each have great individual voices and the combination of their voices is beautiful. Their singsongy melodies and the group’s light instrumentation (violin, ukulele, minimal drums) keep the songs bouncy and moving. The simplicity of their songwriting recalls She & Him and the male/female vocal interaction is highly reminiscent of Edward Sharpe and the Magnetic Zeros (Hell, the guy’s name is even Alexander!). But I wasn’t connecting with this music in the way that I’m sure the group wanted me to.Wild Child - Pillow Talk
Then, I took a chance and allowed myself into the album-listening experience, and it was like a whole new record. Beggins and Wilson have an interesting history. The facts are not entirely clear, but it seems that they were once a couple and no longer are now. Their press release describes their relationship as “a less than idealistic yet enchanting romance,” and that’s almost exactly how I would describe my own former relationship (my words wouldn’t be so delicate, though). The songs themselves bear this out. “Darling Divine” is a tender song from Wilson that begins, “Chills down my spine / When I feel your heart next to mine / Feel the ground beneath my feet turn into the sky.” It’s an impeccable account of falling in love that can’t help but warm my heart. But then the title track is simply devastating. Wilson’s opening “When I sleep, I’m dreaming for you” is countered with Beggins’ “When you sleep, I’m thinking for her.” Ouch! “Wish I still could love you,” he continues, “just don’t think I’m sinking for you.” Having just heard words nearly identical to that, it rips me apart. Yet, Beggins’ delivery is so honest that he can’t be vilified.
In fact, across the album, there are many different perspectives presented. I come out of Pillow Talk feeling conflicted about relationships in general. There seem to be no heroes here, and no villains. It just honestly tells the story of two people caught in the midst of something bigger than either of them, trying to navigate their own emotions alongside their partner’s. Along the way, there are “Bridges Burning,” there’s “Someone Else,” there’s manipulation, desperation, love, hope and fear. The critic in me still feels like they could’ve shaved off a few tracks in the middle of the album somewhere – the hourlong runtime is a bit much – but it adds up to a journey through the heart that I’m not sure I was prepared for. Y’all will have to let me know if it’s as affecting in your own personal contexts. You can go here to get the full album for yourself and stream more of the music. I recommend it; just be ready to let yourself in.