It is best to consider Wildhoney a pop band. Although its music contains many of the trappings of the rock subgenre shoegaze—My Bloody Valentine-esque pedal-swirled guitar, frenetic drum rhythms, and an increased emphasis on oblique musical textures—this five-piece is a pop group.
“[Shoegaze] can be focused on the atmosphere, and less on the songs. Our songs start on acoustic guitar,” guitarist and founding member Joe Trainor explains, as he sits at a Mount Vernon restaurant with Wildhoney lead singer Lauren Shusterich and guitarist Marybeth Mareski just days before they embark on their biggest U.S. tour yet. (Bassist Alan Everhart, described as the “dreamer” of the group, appropriately, has slept in and couldn’t make it. Drummer Zach Inscho is also absent.)
Trainor goes into further detail about the band’s preference for song-writing over atmosphere: “All of it comes from making a chorus and a bridge that sounds good on their own before we bring in pedals. I don’t start with pedals until we’re at practice.” And in conversation, the group mentions Patsy Cline, the Tammys, and producer Phil Spector as major influences.
“We see shoegaze as a healthy part of a balanced diet,” adds Mareski.
The balance in Wildhoney between catchy hooks and shoegaze instrumentation is one the musicians have maintained through both their debut self-titled 2013 EP and last year’s “Seventeen Forever” EP, although it has all been refined on “Sleep Through It.” And they’ve done this while dealing with all of the pressures of normal life (“I have like four day jobs” Shusterich quips) and, more pressingly, a host of lineup changes.
Shusterich joined after the release of Wildhoney’s first official EP, and Mareski joined after all of “Sleep Through It” was recorded over the summer, after guitarist David Litz, who is featured on the album, and the band parted ways. This makes Trainor and Everhart the only remaining original members of Wildhoney (Inscho joined early on, but wasn’t a founding member). The addition of Mareski, previously known more for her sensual vocals under the name Little Rib, adds an extra harmonic component to the band, on top of dense guitar work.
“Sleep Through It” has been in the works for some time and the band’s new lineup is largely focused on the future already. “We recorded this LP about eight months ago, so I’m excited to record this current stuff, because I think we’ve all grown in little ways since then,” Trainor says. “I think [the next album] will be the most musical thing we do, in terms of other instrumentation beyond just the two guitars, vocals, drums. More synths, and organ.”
While Wildhoney is already preparing for the next creative step, listeners should make sure to pay special attention to “Sleep Through It.” This is certainly not the first album to collide disorienting voids of noise with catchy choruses—The Jesus and Mary Chain’s “Psychocandy” was iconic based on its pairing of ’60s girl group melodies with caverns of scuzz, and local acts like Beach House and Wye Oak are nationally known festival-level acts thanks to their catchy combination of drone and pop—but Wildhoney embraces both with a ravenous kind of verve. And the production quality is significantly higher than previous Wildhoney releases; it’s the group’s most fully formed display of distinct tunefulness.
Shusterich’s voice glides above, then dips and dives into the group’s shoegaze undercurrents and acts as a guide, giving the listener a fixed point to latch onto while the band maintains a psychedelic atmosphere. It communicates a wide range of emotional expression. She imbues the tender ‘Tea Leaves’ and ‘Fall In’ with a guarded fragility. At the same time, she also handles the high-energy ‘Maybe You’re Crazy,’ and repeats the titular phrase of ‘Super Stupid’ with Gwen Stefani-like levels of panache. Shusterich’s sticky-sweet melodies let one visualize an adolescence as blasé as it is optimistic.
Again, it helps that “Sleep Through It,” despite being so homegrown and indie in spirit, sounds great: All its charging low ends and singsong-y qualities act in unison. In short, this is creative but just plain catchy music, with a menacing undercurrent of fuzz.
“The band arose just as an idea to play loud pop music,” Trainor says, “[and] it has evolved into what people call shoegaze, but we just call it pop.”
Wildhoney’s “Sleep Through It” is out now. The band plays a record-release show at the Crown on Jan. 23 with Wing Dam, Expert Alterations, Big Hush, and Outer Spaces.