Music Review: ‘Wild Animals’ is a little tame

A five-piece band from Duluth, Minnesota, Trampled by Turtles just doesn’t sit comfortably in any one genre.

Their instrumentation is that of a classic bluegrass quintet – guitar, bass, banjo, mandolin and fiddle – but they are frequently labeled as “indie folk” due to their more modern chord progressions and song structures.

With their seventh studio album, “Wild Animals,” the band has moved even further away from a traditional bluegrass sound and into the modern folk movement.

“Wild Animals” opens with its self-titled song, a slow waltz with soaring, wordless vocal harmonies reminiscent of bands like The Avett Brothers, Band of Horses and Nickel Creek. The sound is pure and crisp, with every instrument finding a little space to support to the melody without overcrowding the track.

Unfortunately, about halfway through this six-minute song, we encounter a problem, one that plagues almost every track on this album: nothing changes. Six entire minutes of plodding through verse and chorus after verse and chorus with virtually no change in dynamics or instrumentation.

In a word, the album is flat. Track after track, the band begins with solid musical material and then squanders it by trying to milk it for an entire three or four minutes. “Lucy” is a perfect example of this, a track on the latter half of the album that opens with gorgeous, subdued texture and vocals. It has a constant, rhythmic pedal on the bass that suggests the song is building towards something and then just as the parts really start to layer, the song just ends abruptly.

As a listener, it’s fairly disappointing to love the beginning of a song and then feel disappointed by its conclusion. It’s not that this album is completely devoid of dynamics; verses are quieter and choruses are louder, but this happens so often and predictably that it becomes non-musical.

“Wild Animals” certainly has its moments, though. The track “Western World” serves as an upbeat contrast to “Lucy” and has the most variation on the record, as well as a catchy rhythmic hit scheme to close the song. “Repetition” is like the indie folk version of an Elliot Smith song, and “Winners” is a fairly dynamic tune that ends the album strongly.

Ultimately, though, the story behind “Wild Animals” is one of failed potential.

Tracks begin with solid musical ideas that aren’t developed, resulting in songs that are just OK – but not great, and definitely not lasting.