Fuzzy and infectious second from the best named band in whatever genre Donovan Wolfington are right now.
I can’t think of many bands hailing from New Orleans, and even if I could, Donovan Wolfington would probably be better than them. The Louisiana natives caused ripples within their respective field with the release of DIY debut Stop Breathing, a release which saw them sign to the always exemplary Topshelf Records for their following EP, Scary Stories You Tell In The Dark. The band remain on the championing Boston-based label for their second full length, How To Treat The Ones You Love, an eclectic record birthed in turmoil but yet remaining upbeat and deliciously indie-rock in its wake throughout.
Scary Stories… was an EP which refused to be tied down by its genre, or limited by its track number, and across its eleven minute runtime it saw Donovan Wolfington roaming and raucous. It also marked a progression on their debut, and that continues this time around, with the band exploring their sound in a wider spectrum. Variety was the spice of Wolfington life last year, and that trend continues on How To Treat The Ones You Love, which, at least for the first half, willingly and wantonly throws a few curveballs into a fuzzy and frolicking mix. Not particularly streamlined or consistent, but neither sloppy or schizophrenic, Donovan Wolfington’s second LP falls somewhere between Green Day’s Nimrod, a cited influence on the records shape, and Say Anything’s In Defence Of The Genre, happy to experiment like the latter and churn along like the former. There’s a distinct retro punk vibe to proceedings, be it on the name-calling Rhonda (‘Oh Rhonda why don’t you just love me? the track yells), which wouldn’t sound foreign on Dookie, or the thick guitars of meaty Basilisk, which has a gritty garage feel. How To Treat The Ones You Love is similar to Nimrod, at least aesthetically, and the sound it borrows from that record, amongst others, is made its own by the time closer Sadhead brings the record to an end, choice lines ‘Well I got a plan so I’ll get high / and the sound of your voice on the phone lets me know that I’ll be sleeping alone’ leaving a lasting impression. Donovan Wolfington said that they wanted to make a record which sounded like Green Day, and they have to an extent, but this is more than just an imitation, or even a tribute, it’s a means of finding your own shape with other people’s clay. At times, How To Treat The Ones You Love is a statue, standing tall on emphatic opener Ollie North, and at other times its sludge in the form of doom-laden U-Turn Locust, which is entirely new, and uncomfortably twisted. It plods along on heavy feet, enigmatic and perplexing given the records overall tone – a crusty, heavy drain featuring a National Geographic commentary from Satan himself. It comes out of nowhere, as done the hardcore pummel of HxC Punk, which tears along and decimates everything in its path, and both keep things interesting, even if they do send the record spiraling suddenly into darker waters. These waters are at low tide for the rest of the record, but there’s still a sense of drowning in Donovan Wolfington’s lyrics, which are as you’d expect given the backdrop accompanying the records completion, namely the sudden death of friend and producer Rick Naiser. Thoughts on loss and love are frequent, but How To Treat The Ones You Love never feels bogged down by the melancholic and introspective nature of its written content, instead opting for a lighter feel. One of the bands two vocalists, Neil Berthier described the record as ‘a dark representation of painful events put in a pretty and crisp bow’ and he’s spot-on. How To Treat The Ones You Love feels very much like that statement, and it strikes a balance which isn’t quite as skewed as the records genre blend. This mix of styles does affect the pace of the record, which is thrown off by these stranger selections, feeling like tracks which have been shuffled in from other artists in your iTunes library. Going from the Mac DeMarco quaintness of Slow Loris to the Code Orange hell of Locust sees things take an abrupt turn, and although enriching the record, they stray far enough from the expected norm to jar. Mosquito sets things back on track though, and is a highlight, asking ‘How do you treat the ones you love to fuck, but hate to love?’ It’s a good question, and one which relates back to the title.
It’s easy to be positive in regards to this How To Treat The Ones You Love, it’s immensely likable, but in a way also flawed. It’s a shame that, with a first half so full of inquisitive potential, things takes a safer, but by no means less enjoyable road in the second half. The final six tracks on the record don’t surprise in quite the same way, and although never really growing familiar per se, things lose steam as the likes of Manchac and Hershel Thursday risk blending together and losing their own identities within a hazy fog. This isn’t necessarily a bad thing, Donovan Wolfington fill their tracks with a passion that never burns out, and their band make very good music, but the latter stages feel a little underwhelming, even if the individual selections which make it up are still solid enough on their own. John Cena for example (track not wrestler), is a highlight, a ripping song which packs in some emotionally strained lyrics alongside melancholic but meaty instrumentals, the lines ‘every single day just gets a little worse, in every single way I feel a little worse’ aching towards the end. Considering the troubles when recording, it says a lot about Donovan Wolfington’s love for their craft, and ability to create, that songs like this one are as oddly uplifting as they are. Coming through struggle and then releasing something like this merits a lot of credit, and I think that’s important to highlight. At the end of the day, How To Treat The Ones You Love is an end of summer punk album at heart; it’s a record for warm evenings with friends, and given the circumstances surrounding its inception, this didn’t have to be the case. So I say fair play to messrs Wolfington; I like their record a lot, and I like that it sounds the way it does. The indie styled songs are smooth and melody, creating a warm haze, while the louder tracks pack fast paced guitars against a more intense vocal delivery, the lyrical side of which is occasionally and unfortunately lost in the general static of it all. It makes reading deeper into the tracks difficult, without anything to read at least, but it doesn’t matter too much considering that Wolfington make up the lost lyrical ground elsewhere. How To Treat The Ones You Love is a record which is very easy to enjoy and very difficult to dislike, an enticing and invigorating explosion which does lose some of its colour towards the end, finishing vibrant still instead of in sepia. Given the chance, there’s a lot to love, and even if its best enjoyed in two halves it’s still pretty damn good when whole. Listen / purchase below.
Listen to: Ollie North, HxC Punk, Rhonda
FFO: Nouns, Sundials, Green Day