Album Review: Natural Child – Dancin’ With Wolves

24 Feb

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Natural Child are probably my favorite band of the last ten years; there is no pretension, no ego, just good ole rock n’ roll served in a drug inspired haze of influenced instrumentation coupled with lifting yet almost academic lyrics. They have managed to reinvent themselves with every album, blurring the lines indefinitely between folk, soul, country, and rock, reaching a point on their latest Dancin’ With Wolves where all of the rambling and backwoods influences are finally creating a form out of such abstract and weathered niches.

The term “developing artist” somehow has become this way for people to label a band as sounding inferior and vastly far from being up to the par of how a “good” band should sound yet thirty years ago every band worth a shit was in constant development as a sign of greatness and not a mark against it. Of course for a band to have recordings available for mass-consumption was a bigger deal in 1977 than it has been since the digital, carbon-copy, free version of garage-band era we are currently waist deep in so a labels involvement and control over a band’s direction and sound has diminished.

For how great it is to see labels losing their heavy handed grip there is a negative that comes in its wake which is that nearly every bratty band of spoiled arrogance gaining a moment’s recognition see their foot in the door as being a sign of arrival. There is no longer a pushing of boundaries, no need to make oneself better, just a constant regurgitation of the same format, the same sound, the same choruses, the same breakdowns, nothing changes and fans complacently stop caring. There is a definite risk when it comes to a band changing their sound every year, “selling out” is the constant monster under the bed for bands, stretching one’s legs can be dangerous, yet The Rolling Stones, Talking Heads, ELO, and Hawkwind are all what would have been considered “developing bands” and would have long since gone forgotten had they not been, Natural Child should and most likely will go down in history alongside bands such as those.

Now all niceties aside, from a fan perspective Dancin’ With Wolves is a very flawed album. The flash of energy that made 1971 (Infinity Cat Recordings) incredible shows up only in sparks, the johnny-rocker swagger of youthful arrogance which blew our minds on Hard In Heaven (Burger Records) has all but subsided in the sage like presence felt on the much more 70’s roots-rock For The Love Of The Game (Burger Records) which could have been more fittingly titled Songs To Listen To On Tour If You’re In A Band With Friends. Remembering back I guess I would have labeled each Natural Child album “flawed” upon first listen, so I guess by “flawed” I probably just mean different.

Dancin’ With Wolves won’t officially be here until tomorrow, so the sound of the needle pulling into the first track on side one, the hisses and pops of anticipation, is still yet to be a reality yet before even the first note smokes through my speakers, I’m stoked. Natural Child albums feel like reading Kerouac for the first time. Knowing that as I listen through the digital representation of Dancin’ With Wolves, without meeting my skewed expectations, it still manages to remind me of what it is that keeps me completely infatuated with music and the artist who create it. Tomorrow might as well be Christmas.

With all honesty, the longer I continue to write about bands and deal with the day-in/day-out grinding down which comes from trying to constantly find newer bands worth sharing the more desensitized I find myself becoming towards the constant onslaught of downloads and emails and early releases, “check out my friends band,” “have you heard this dude’s other band?” some days I feel burdened by the fact that so much effort goes into finding a single great song or album, not to mention the time it takes to format and edit and promote just further exasperating things. Most bands really don’t care what people say about them (more often than not the ones who do are the kind of people who need constant praise to feel worth, they aren’t bad bands but they aren’t important either) so there is this constant compiling of undervalued work for no real result and at the end of the day when I take stock of how probably a fourth of my life is spent in focus on something so abstract and fleeting, I mean let us be honest, if I don’t write about this Natural Child album there are enough people who will that my offering really isn’t of much worth. So when I’m having a blank screen dilemma of “why” and then a rare album such as Dancin’ With Wolves comes on and for an hour or whatever I get to remember that love, which I could never come close to expressing, that has driven me to want to talk about and share these artifacts of art, it depresses me to imagine others not getting to experience it as well. Natural Child remind me of why creating and sharing music is important and it sure as hell isn’t to make money or gain recognition, it is because, well, what else are we going to do, ya know. For this band and this album that seems to be the general ethos.

Although, Dancin’ With Wolves lacks a single real stand-out song, overall this may be their best album yet at expressing exactly what is important to the band and which aspects of their sound they’ve worked hard to chisel down. This is a very simple album, the instrumentation is more resigned than ever, the lyrics lack an edge, but there is at the heart of the thing a presence which encapsulates what I feel to be the overall experience of anyone staring at their twenties in the rear-view after chasing one’s own heart and temptations for most their life. That is the strength of this band, they don’t create music to pacify a need, they create out of reflection, something which always takes strength and always catches far more criticism. This isn’t your kid brother’s favorite band and there is a valid reason for that; talent, quality, substance are none of those reasons.

Natural Child didn’t become my favorite band through their albums alone, much stems from the fact that they have quite possibly been the hardest touring band since forming back in 2010 and every single show they play is uniquely perfect. They are the only band I’ve ever seen play what a crowd needs as opposed to what a crowd wants. If it is a Tuesday and there’s that kind of passively chilled hush to the venue they will play to that like watching a pan of water come to a slow boil, if it is a rowdy Friday night in Texas they will ignite the place into a riot and then pull you back in to where everyone is vibing along with more of a “we’re all in this together” kind of connection; they do both without having to hide behind a wall of noise and distortion, without catering to whatever the current trend in Brooklyn is, and they do it every single night. Natural Child don’t have to resort to a schtick, they are the band others try to emulate and they do it with such a humble passive presence that if you are not looking for it you could miss it.

These guys will be headlining alongside The Orwells , Warm Soda,and The Bad Lovers at Burgermania III which is by far the single best and most important lineup you can catch at SXSW this year. If you’re not making the holy trek to Austin,TX this year then you can catch them on tour with Black Lips in April.

Natural Child – Facebook | Soundcloud | Website

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