Looked at broadly and setting aside rock, which has seen its market share decline, the recent history of popular music shows a divide between forms rooted in electronic sounds and those that make use of acoustic instruments and hark back to the past. The four members of Rabbit Wilde, who grew up on the Canadian border in Washington but mostly met after they moved to New York, bridge this divide in novel ways.
There’s an electronic rhythmic basis to their songs, maybe started off with foot stomps and continued with a little loop. It hangs in the background and is sometimes replicated live with purely analog sounds including, in one video set in an antique store, the keystrokes of a manual typewriter. Atop the rhythms are big tunes and distinctive textures with a string band that includes the unusual six-string ukulele and a cello and other instruments like clarinet brought in as a song demands them. Each song is different, and all four of the members–brothers Zach and Nathan Hamer, Miranda Zickler, and Jillian Walker–sing, each voice lending a specific vocal timbre. Since the band started in the early 2010s their vocals have gotten notably stronger and more capable of forging the shape of a song.
The predominant sound is acoustic, and the songs deal with love or the natural environment. But more than the rhythm is taken from electronic dance music: the tune and the acoustic instrumentation take their places within a carefully realized structure of sound textures. Most of Rabbit Wilde’s songs are original, but, to get an idea of what they’re up to, check out their cover of the dark Rihanna hit “Disturbia” on YouTube, with its cornfield setting. You wouldn’t think the elaborate electronics of that song would be susceptible to reinterpretation as mostly acoustic Americana, but in the hands of these young people it seems natural.
The end result is foot-tapping music with a real rhythmic kick, defining large musical spaces and filling them with novel instrumentation and expert harmony singing. Rabbit Wilde may remind you a bit of Delta Rae, another harmonically rich young sibling band that the Ark helped to break out, but what they’re doing is even more original: they offer a kind of Americana that lives easily in a world where electronic dance music represents the forward edge.
Rabbit Wilde comes to the Ark on Saturday, April 1.