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May 8, 2017

‘Slop’ marks Forth Wanderers as one of the best young indie bands in the country

Forth Wanderers Official Facebook Page

(Forth Wanderers Official Facebook Page)

The first time I saw Forth Wanderers, they were sort of easy to shrug off.

The show was on a bitterly cold night last January at an always off-putting Elks Lodge in my hometown of Ridgewood, New Jersey; a cookie cutter New York metropolitan area suburb if ever there was one.

They were dead last on a bill dedicated to saying farewell to Toasted Plastic, a brilliant math-punk trio whose members I had grown up with and known for many years. As a sophomore in college, watching Toasted Plastic blast through the songs I had heard so many times in various basements and DIY venues in high school for the last time felt like the end of something, the final door to the punk scene I had grown up immersed in, closing in front of me.

In that sort of environment, Forth Wanderers, a shy-seeming quintet from nearby Montclair whose members were even younger than myself, seemed out of place. Their songs seemed endearing but distant, a difficult to pin down mishmash of suburban punk influences that encouraged another look that I was in little mood to give at the time.

A few months ago, though, I found myself at Brooklyn’s, Baby’s All Right, eagerly awaiting a set from Purchase, New York’s LVL UP. Last on this particular bill was, by chance, Forth Wanderers.

The group that took the stage that night couldn’t have been more different from the band I had first seen a year and a half earlier. Their tightly coiled songs had more muscle and impact, with the band looking infinitely more confident and connected to one another on stage. I watched in amazement as this incredibly young band played like battle-tested veterans, filling me with the same childish awe that I felt watching my favorite bands tear it up in my friend’s basement.

Though their new EP, “Slop,” clocks in at less than 12 minutes, it leaves an indelible mark. Guitarist Ben Guterl’s arrangements incorporate the indie giants of yore (your Pavements, your Built to Spills) without becoming too overtly reverential or settling into lazy games of spot-the-influence. But that would mean nothing if they didn’t work so well with the remarkable performances of lead vocalist Ava Trilling.

Trilling, who only graduated high school this past June, is almost brutal in her efficiency with words. Though almost none of the lines on the EP’s masterful title track are more than half a dozen words, they each pack a stunning punch. In the verses, she sings slowly, letting lines like, “I know/I’m weird, I’ve been told” or “new fears/they get old too” fully sink in over the ragged but beautiful melody.

Trilling is just as devastatingly simple in the chorus, perfectly forming an agonizing, universal question (“oh oh/where did I go wrong?”) around the song’s biggest hook. Though it certainly borrows from the genre (Trilling delivers the gut-punching “I love too much/to hurt this bad” at one point), “Slop” has too much depth to be done justice by being labelled simply as your new favorite emo anthem.

The rest of the EP, released Nov. 11, is just as impressively fleshed out. Opener “Know Better” lurches with anxiety, regret and insecurity, while “Nerves” is a vivid trip through Trilling’s restless, sleep-deprived mind. Throughout the collection, the band, for the better, clears away the youthful haze that clouded their first significant release, 2014’s “Tough Love,” dealing with coming-of-age issues in ways far more profound than many bands twice their age.

On “Slop,” Forth Wanderers manage to perfectly recreate what I always thought was the most rewarding aspect of DIY music, the connection that I ironically thought I may have lost the night I first saw them. Their music embodies the thrill of watching an unpretentious, normal group of peers creating remarkable, honest art right in front of your eyes.

Jackson Maxwell can be reached at jlmaxwell@umass.edu.

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