Wild Pink’s third record, “A Billion Little Lights” is transportive. It allows listeners to dip toes into wells of memory. It brilliantly captures raw humanity, boiling it down to its very base form. We are nature. Humans are just as vast and mystifying as the endless depths of the oceans or the morphing cirrus clouds overhead.
Life can be divided into neat portions, vivisected, allowing one to live within various memories, various periods of time. For a moment, we can be children again, bombing rusted bikes down steep hills, swerving to avoid potholes. In other moments, we can be reunited with former friends, a bonfire illuminating smiling, friendly faces.
Reminiscing is pleasant to a certain degree. You can stare down the mountain and see how much progress you’ve made. But if you turn around, you’ll see the remaining rock you have to scale. You’ve grown, made changes to your life, but you’re still as confused as ever.
The catchy folk-rock of “You Can Have It Back” captures this feeling perfectly. “Never figured out how to live,” vocalist John Ross sings. “Just dreaming all the time.”
Life isn’t solvable. It’s not a puzzle that you suddenly find all the pieces for. It’s not a code that you can break. Insecurity lingers, hanging on into Ross’ adult years: “Everybody laughs easily. There’s something wrong with me.” But dreaming, something so simple, can be an antidote.
There’s beauty in the record’s simplicity. On album-opener “The Wind Was Like a Train” the repeated refrain of “I got your back” conjures up youthful camaraderie, an unbreakable spirit of togetherness.
But there’s also beauty in the record’s complexity. “A Billion Little Lights” is gorgeous. Each song is brimming with a dizzying array of instruments: violins, wurlitzers, fiddles, synths, saxophones and even an accordion. The vocal harmonies between Ross and Julia Stiener of the band Ratboys work as another instrument, ushering the listener through lush soundscapes.
Tracks “Family Friends” and “Oversharers Anonymous” are standouts, combining the simplicity of Ross’ messaging with the complexity of his instrumentations.
“Family Friends” is a track about stagnation. “Every day is Groundhog’s Day now,” Ross sings over twinkling pedal steel guitars. The song is vibrantly textured, featuring powerful harmonies between synths and guitars.
“Oversharers Anonymous” reads as a rumination on social interaction in the modern age. “And me, I’m not hurt. You’re just dumb anyway. Yeah, you’re dumb and it doesn’t matter,” Ross sings, repeating the defenses of thousands of social media users after being corrected. The final two minutes of the song are incredible. Twin violins circle around each other, underscored by ambient keyboards and acoustic guitars.
“A Billion Little Lights” is an incredible feat. It’s nearly impossible to pin down a favorite track. It’s a record full of anxieties, dreams and affirmations. Life will not always be beautiful. A lot of the time it can be exclusively painful. But there are pockets of space where, for a single moment, it can be exclusively wondrous. This album is the soundtrack to that space. Uniquely exquisite.