After being together for nearly eight years, Portland synth-pop fixtures Wild Ones are calling it quits, and the band’s upcoming shows at Mississippi Studios will be their very last.
It’s a shame. Since forming, Wild Ones have been among the Portland music scene’s best acts, and always seemed to be on the verge of breaking through on a massive scale. The band toured endlessly, their local shows routinely sold out, and vocalist Danielle Sullivan—one of the most gifted singers to ever come out of Portland—even performed with Weezer at the Roseland in 2014.
But the commercial success Wild Ones truly deserved eluded them. (A Bandcamp user capsule for the group’s 2017 record Mirror Touch reads, “Somewhere in a parallel universe, Wild Ones are bigger than Taylor Swift”—a neat fantasy.) Their legacy consists of four releases: two EPs and two LPs, all of which are great and pretty different from one another. Their under-discussed 2010 debut EP, You’re a Winner, is more evocative of straightforward Pacific Northwest indie pop à la Lake. Their first full-length, 2013’s Keep It Safe, was the inaugural release on local record label Party Damage (full disclosure: Party Damage have put out a few of my records, too), though it was soon reissued by the emo-centric Topshelf Records, who have handled all of the group’s releases since.
Keep It Safe established what would become Wild Ones’ signature aesthetic: angular, varicolored pop music that is equal parts danceable and thought-provoking. And while my own sentimentality is certainly at play here, it remains my favorite of the group’s releases. Wild Ones isn’t the most prolific band in the world, and their recordings hint at a nagging perfectionism—the fact that they only have two LPs to their name despite being a band for eight years really says a lot—but Keep It Safe remains an exceptional sonic achievement. The mixing process that accompanied Keep It Safe was, quite literally, torturous: The long days resulted in founding member Clayton Knapp developing the hearing disorder hyperacusis, and his premature departure from the band.
But the payoff was immense: Keep It Safe is one of Portland’s preeminent “headphone records,” and it’s a strong argument in favor of off-the-wall maximalism, which is especially rare in a city whose music culture—at least as it pertains to pop or rock—is encumbered by the oft-conservative tenets of DIY spartanism.
Wild Ones doubled down on their radio-pop ambitions with the 2015 EP Heatwave, and last year’s Mirror Touch saw Sullivan assert a strong lyrical identity that ran parallel to the group’s infallible pop sensibilities. Mirror Touch is a great album, but it’s a bittersweet swan song in retrospect; most bands have one decent album in them, but Wild Ones shattered that ceiling three years into their existence. Sullivan’s raw talent as a vocalist and emotional medium, along with the band’s knack for crafting indelible, intelligent pop songs, converged to create a project with seemingly infinite potential. Portland was lucky to have Wild Ones, and though it sounds dramatic and cliché, their break-up really does feel like the end of an era.