The key thing to note about a lot of modern indie-rock is that it seems to exist in an ecosystem completely separate from everything else, but that’s ultimately proven to be its biggest blessing. It pushes the fairness of the overall meritocratic system that’s led to a much greater mean level of quality, and with specific festivals and all-dayers existing to foster these scenes in particular, it all feels like a true recapturing of the indie spirit that had felt misguided and misrepresented for so long. And while it would be impossible to attribute that rise to any one act in particular, the importance of a band like Wild Cat Strike emphatically doing their own thing can’t be stressed more. Their 2018 debut Rhubard Nostalgia had the necessary melody and accessibility, but by fusing in shards of math-rock, post-rock and indie-folk, had a lot of distinction to it that made them ones to watch within the indie scene. It’s easy to expect the same from its follow-up EP Mustard Coloured Years too, not only because of the relatively quick turnaround time, but also because of its status as an epilogue of sorts to that album, and a continuation of its specific ideas and themes.
Digging further into that particular context, it highlights a lot of what can be great about indie-rock of this stripe, namely a release style that’s less bound to structure and, provided the results are good, can serve to flesh out a body of work as almost an update of sorts. That’s what Mustard Coloured Years comes across as; naturally, it’s more truncated than its predecessor, the writing still feels well-realised and the instrumental style is more concise but no less encompassing. Wild Cat Strike’s strategy of adding to their established catalogue piece by piece mightn’t have the same thoroughness in examination as a full-length album, but for what they’re trying to do here, Mustard Coloured Years does all it can to add and develop the band’s established foundations.
Where that occurs the most is in the writing, taking the big, humanistic concepts explored throughout Rhubarb Nostalgia and serving as somewhat of a coda to them, particularly the idea of death that’s shaped around Danny Byrom’s lyrical style where his more impressionistic imagery is key. The tone is made more ethereal through a rooting in religion on Mustard or being tied to key images of an iron lung on Toothcutter (Part 2) and working beekeepers on Beekeeper Song, all tied in distinct senses of melancholy and vulnerability that, even on such a brief listen, still finds a way to slide through its emotions and dip into adjacent avenues when necessary. Byrom’s tight, concentrated voice might be an acquired taste, but he conveys those feelings extremely well, accommodating the looseness that’s a key part of Wild Cat Strike’s execution and giving his more imagery-rich style room to develop and involve.
It’s impressive that it’s all able to be done so well here, given that Mustard Coloured Years really doesn’t have a greatly sized canvas to work with. As such, there’s a bit of musical dissonance here that doesn’t connect as well – the low-key strumming that just passes a minute on Beekeeper Song particularly stands out in that regard – but as an exercise in compressing such a wide-ranging scope of influences down, this is pretty good on the whole. The swelling crescendo from fragile indie-pop confessionalism into a more roaring emo torrent on Mustard places a tight focus on dynamics that’s expertly grasped, while the more tense, groove-centric progressions of Toothcutter (Part 1) and the spiralling indie anthemia of Swamp add new strings to the band’s bow that feel just as taut as everything else. There’s a sonic vibrancy to this EP, held together by production that’s warm and unobtrusive with the slightest hint of ramshackle math-rock personality to ensure there’s more consistency to the slow-burns.
It’s what makes Mustard Coloured Years such an enjoyable listen despite the rather short amount of content on offer. As a companion piece, there’s automatic longevity there in reframing and connecting to what came before, but this is just a really strong EP in its own right, with a couple of great tracks and a marked continuation in tone and tact that Wild Cat Strike has previously established. It’s rare to give praise like that to a release of this style when placed in isolation, and while the most fulfillment does come from an understanding of the wider context behind it, this is still an enjoyable listen as merely a slice of indie-rock that’s looking to be a bit more introspective and individual. It’s definitely one worth giving attention to, especially when it opens up so many more possibilities for this band to explore going forward.
For fans of: Dry The River, Minus The Bear, Modest Mouse
Words by Luke Nuttall
‘Mustard Coloured Years’ by Wild Cat Strike is released on 17th April on Small Pond Recordings.