For Ella Walker, aka Wildes, Other Words Fail Me was the results of a long, hard battle with forces in her life, and with herself. Written during the pandemic, the album is “a breakup album written long before the breakup itself”, as Walker struggled to free herself from an emotionally abusive relationship, and learned to be honest with herself. Knowing this, it’s not surprising that the opening track “Woman in Love” sounds more like it’s coming from a person enslaved and forced to say they’re in love than someone who is actually feeling love. The bluesy tune, sung with viscous harmonies over raw guitar chords, challenges those on the outside, as Walker asks “How would you know I’m a woman in love”, as the relationship she’s in clearly doesn’t show love.
But hope soon raises its head, on the empowering piano ballad “Lightly”, a survivors anthem where Walker realizes “I love the way I can fall on my feet, keeping my own kind of bible”. Like a number of the tracks on the album, what begins as a stripped back track builds into full orchestration, showing Wildes ability to create lush arrangements around her emotive vocals (the album closer, “True Love”, with The Flaming Lips, does this with exquisite, Beatles-esque harmonizing and cosmic depth and resonance).
Wildes isn’t adverse to cracking out a straight-forward rock number either, like the upbeat “Far and Wide”. With propulsive drums, Walker assures a friend “If you want a soul to fight beside, I will follow far and wide”. Tracks like this one show off Walker’s confident delivery, and the place of inner-strength she’s found in life. “Just Like You” continues this, with it’s pop-leaning melody, bluesy sway and indie rock chorus.
As a vocalist, Wildes has a soulful set of pipes, able to venture into a trippy dreamscapes (“Flames”, “Real Life”) and soothing melancholy (“Restless”, “Anytime”). As a songwriter, she does an impressive job of making the universal personal. On “Restless”, she heartbreakingly evokes the feelings of helplessness that come after losing a friend (“Settle down brother, don’t think about all the life that remains. I feel so helpless, I’m sorry I couldn’t keep you from pain”). On the other end, she finds new ways of voicing her need to keep going (“I heard a voice against it all. She said I’m better off alive”).
Overall, this is a strong and compelling debut album. Wildes‘ versatile songwriting palette touches on everything from haunting folk, moving piano pop, indie rock and dabs of psychedelia, and yet, Other Words Fail Me remains a cohesive work. If you’re a fan of artists like Sharon Van Etten, Mazzy Star and Michael Kiwanuka, Wildes is an artist you should become familiar with.
Listen to the full album when it drops on January 13th, and listen to the pre-released tracks here