While 2018 has seen a number of otherwise avant-garde influences seem to penetrate the boundaries of pop music like never before in history, it’s undeniable that surrealism has had a landmark year like no other. One considered a staple of counterculture, a flare for everything that is cerebral, psychedelic and space aged has taken roots as the dominant flashpoint of emerging western pop culture, and no one has been leading the charge in this new movement with more zeal than Leland and the Silver Wells. Primarily a vehicle for singer/songwriter Leland Ettinger, the Silver Wells’ new self-titled album is causing a big stir in indie circles and garnering massive exposure for the exciting new variety of pop music that it celebrates so vividly.
Leland and the Silver Wells is a remarkably experimental effort even for indie pop, but it’s a far from being an inaccessibly fragmented exhibition piece. Right now, audiences are craving unpredictability and deviation from what is considered classic or traditional, and this record fits the bill perfectly. The music is very easy listening for formlessly structured the songs are, and Leland’s vocals are quite possibly the most attractive and inviting of any I’ve heard in recent memory. There’s plenty of polish in the production to keep the songs from getting too raw or aggressive for casual ears, but we never get the impression that Leland or the band are holding back from delivering the caliber of performance that they’re capable of when firing on all cylinders.
By arranging this record the way that it is, listeners are able to appreciate the duality that this band is able of demonstrating without ever becoming constructively hypocritical. Songs like “Was a Prisoner” transcend genre labels altogether in favor of exploring uncharted sonic territories, while in other tracks like “Give Up the Gun,” the Silver Wells straight up exploit basic compositional framework to make a statement about progressive songwriting in general. It’s hard to believe that this is Leland’s first record in over a decade; there isn’t a spot of rust to be found anywhere in these nine tracks, and I would even argue that she sounds more in sync with the band than most actively touring artists do in their prime.
What Leland and the Silver Wells have produced here is a strong contender for record of the year in almost every category I can think of off-hand. It has appeal to fans of rock, pop and even country music, and though it possesses a chameleon like marketability, I don’t think that the band or even Leland herself ever intended this to be the album to yield her the fame and fortune she so obviously deserves. I actually think this record was more about Leland reconnecting with her craft after an extended hiatus that allowed her to grow personally and professionally. And while I’m not wishing for her to take any more time away from the studio, I must say that this is some of her most inspired work yet and whatever she’s been doing for the last ten years has definitely assisted in her creative development.