It’s genuinely heartwarming to see The Xcerts finally get the sort of success and recognition they deserve. They always should have done given how their particular brand of Britrock has always been the top-of-the-line option in terms of pure, open emotionality and planet-conquering hooks, but Hold On To Your Heart proved to be the catalyst to finally spur the wider populace on to take notice. It felt like the right time as well; it might have been a fantastic album all the way back when it was released in very early 2018, but it’s only gotten better since in the way that fantastic, ‘80s-inspired power-pop can, and thus Wildheart Dreaming feels like a well-deserved victory lap. After all, striking while the iron is hot in their most fertile period to date would appear to be the best move for The Xcerts to take, and given that this EP consists of a crop of tracks from the Hold On To Your Heart sessions, that sort of throughline should only result in even greater leverage for the trio, at least on paper.
And, just like the well-known adage of Biffy Clyro’s B-sides being better than most band’s A-sides, it appears the same can now be applied to The Xcerts, as what is effectively a compilation of pieces from the cutting room floor manages to outperform the vast majority of bands in their field by almost a silly amount. Of course, it’s not like that comes as much of a surprise; The Xcerts are pretty much the only band to do early-2010s Britrock with much success nowadays, and considering the album sessions these tracks were taken from, it makes total sense that they end up as good as they are. Perhaps they’re not quite up to the standard as the absolute best from Hold On To Your Heart, but as far as anthemic, heartstring-tugging pop-rock goes, this is still well up there with the absolute best.
Once again, it’s all down to the simplicity of The Xcerts’ operation and how it’s utilised so effectively here. There are no perfunctory bells and whistles thrown in to muddy things up, with really the only significant elements being the straight-laced Britrock framework and a smattering of ‘80s romanticism to give that swirl and spice. That mightn’t sound all that thrilling on paper, but the results ultimately speak for themselves, with You Mean Everything being the knockout power-ballad to kick things off, and Ready To Call and Fight Or Run having the melodic richness that characterises just how far The Xcerts have been able to take this sound. Again, simplicity is its greatest strength, be that in presentation, production that’s definitely polished but in a way that’s tantamount to the ‘80s heartland rock that’s clearly in view, or Murray Macleod’s delivery and the plainspoken earnestness that’s so easy to absolutely adore when done right.
Fortunately, it’s always done right here as well, and that gives Wildheart Dreaming the extra spark in its execution to really work. This isn’t an EP full of dense lyrical twists or portentous themes, and while another crop of love songs could easily run its course (particularly given that was the entire focus of the preceding album), but the abundance of pop gloss and big-hearted intent keeps it from getting stale at any point. You Mean Everything and Fight Or Run are about as basic as love songs come, driven off heady emotionality and unshakable nostalgia, but that’s played up to give them such a huge swell that’s frankly intoxicating, and Real Love pairs Macleod’s quieter, downtrodden range with bare acoustics to chronicle the ending of a relationship that comes with such a tangible amount of pain and misery. It can’t be stressed enough how streamlined this all is, but pretty much every other factor comes together perfectly to make what The Xcerts do a thing of beauty.
This isn’t new, of course; it’s what this band have been doing for years and have just managed to perfect it recently, but it says a lot that the tracks that didn’t make it onto the album proper still land with the glorious presence and magnetism that these ones do. Yes, in comparison to Hold On To Your Heart, a package this slight does feel a bit more throwaway, but it’s a testament to The Xcerts’ strength as a band that it’s not that much an issue, and even a brief EP like this still has more than its fair share of stunning moments that feel so resolutely excellent across the board. It’s not hard to see why The Xcerts are currently seeing more success than they ever have before, and with releases like this fuelling that success, it’s wholeheartedly deserved.
For fans of: Biffy Clyro, Mallory Knox, Fatherson
Words by Luke Nuttall
‘Wildheart Dreaming’ by The Xcerts is out now on Raygun Records.