Wild Nothing’s strength lies in the ability to transport an audience to a calmer version of the room it’s occupying. At Saturday’s Bowery Ballroom showcase, the band achieved that both in sound and visuals, imprinting a sense of serenity to the last night of CMJ. Starting with the visuals, it’s clear that the band, a project led by Jack Tatum, places an emphasis on atmosphere: Purple and light green lights flooded the stage, while a misty smoke gathered, swirling about not dissimilarly to the band’s guitars.
Sonically, however, the band remains as airtight as ever, plowing through a catalog of mostly songs from this year’s excellent release Nocturne. The highlights are hard to point out because a Wild Nothing set contains no missteps to contrast against, but if there’s one song that perfectly encapsulated the show, it was the album and set opener, “Shadow.” A four-minute lament masked with a driving drum line and a memorable guitar riff, it showcases Tatum’s dexterity with weaving dream pop’s ethereal nature into more traditional melodies and flourishes (a string interlude sounds both indulgent and absolutely necessary). The song even allowed for a moment of humor that is so important to self-serious music such as this. A few songs later, an audience member shouted “Shadow!” to which Tatum laughed and stated that they had already played it but, “We must have played it very badly if you didn’t recognize it.” Cue audience laughter among the smiles that had been forming since the moment the band stepped on stage.
Braids went on directly before Wild Nothing, playing a set of all-new songs as they have been doing throughout CMJ. The Canadian band, now a three-piece, has always had a spiritual link to Animal Collective, and this bold move resonates with that connection even as the music itself moves away from the Baltimore indie heroes. Braids’ 30-minute set revealed an interesting truth about the new material that the band has been working on: They are taking influences from more varied places, including a not-subtle nod to Burial as well as tinges of Jamie xx’s production work.
This change is most evident in the shift in focus, musically: Whereas their debut album, Native Speaker, featured woozy synths and powerful guitars, the new material is percussive in nature, showcasing Austin Tufts’s talent for exciting drum work. The star of the show, however, remains the same: Lead singer Raphaelle Standell-Preston’s voice is a marvel to hear live, even more so than on record, because of its shifts from ghostly whisper to powerful shrieks of anger. It’s a stunning contrast that fits the band’s beautiful dismay, and it continues to make Braids one of the more exciting young bands going. If their live set is any indication, their next album will be just as captivating as Native Speaker, if for very different reasons.