Wolf & Cub – ‘NIL’ review: veteran psych-rockers rediscover their powers

On their first album in six years, the Adelaide band please themselves first – and sound all the better for it

Things haven’t always gone to plan for Wolf & Cub. Their early record deal with English label 4AD ended after just one album (2006’s ‘Vessels’), and lineup changes followed as the Adelaide (and later Sydney) band trialled different facets of their atmosphere-soaked psychedelic rock. By the time ‘Heavy Weight’ emerged in 2014, its lack of commercial success, despite its more accessible sound, left the band feeling disenchanted.

That mixed preamble is exactly what invigorates ‘NIL’. Free from trying to keep up with the times or cater to an imagined larger audience, the quartet return with a self-produced fourth album that plays like a highlight reel of what they do best: brooding guitar riffs, agile rhythm section, palpable mood swings and effects-shrouded vocals from leader Joel Byrne. Released on Part Time, the label Byrne co-runs that also counts Jess Cornelius and Siberian Tiger amongst its roster, this record is noticeably heavier in sound but lighter in terms of movement.

Part of Wolf & Cub’s renewed vigour can be credited to new drummer Jonathan Boulet, a tireless presence in bands like Parades and Party Dozen when he’s not producing other acts and releasing solo work. After the departure of longtime drummer Joel Carey, Boulet brings thrilling variety to ‘NIL’, experimenting all over the place yet still nailing things down as needed.

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The band’s reworked rhythmic thrust is apparent from opener ‘Blue State’, which rides a commanding bass line and playful percussive tics as Byrne and fellow guitarist Brock Fitzgerald lean into muscled yet thoughtful interplay. With shades of both Constantines and Queens Of The Stone Age, it’s a confident statement of purpose for a record that only gets weirder and wilder from there.

Boulet’s rapid drumming animates the two-minute scorcher ‘Level’ before underscoring the oomph of ‘Close To The Edge’, a jaded look at the ugliness and dissonance of arguments (in person or online). Boulet stands out especially on ‘Losing Touch’, an unabashed bout of bluster complete with an accelerated segment Byrne has described as faux speed metal, and ‘Undone’, a spooky meditation on anxiety made all the more unnerving by its unhurried pace, bleary organ and dusty, mechanical drum breaks.

Byrne – whose voice is more prominent in the mix than before – is clearly enjoying himself on ‘NIL’, playacting as a dead-eyed punk with the Jello Biafra-esque vocal quakes of ‘Light Of The Morning’ and the mouthy theatrics of ‘Bleed Generation’. Coupled with the gentle diffuseness of ‘Nil Desperandum’ – an unused bit of instrumental music written for a short film – those tracks show Wolf & Cub reaching beyond their psych- and stoner-rock sweet spot. The same goes for ‘Desperate’, which recalls recent Budos Band in its application of dark, dank production to a prowling rhythmic presence and vintage soul snap.

It doesn’t all completely work – the slower ‘Witch Trials’ feels plodding, even with drums crashing at intervals – but ‘NIL’ is very much the act of Wolf & Cub pleasing themselves first and foremost. They feel comfortable in their own skins again, flexing their combined powers with satisfied (and satisfying) determination.

Details

Wolf & Cub new album NIL
  • Release date: November 20
  • Record label: Part Time/Remote Control
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