L'enfant sauvage are something of a wonderful find. Since their inception in 2010, the Austin, Texas group has steadily been capturing the hearts of a rapidly expanding audience, their beautiful, crooning indie-pop vocals and enthralling, organic acoustic instrumentation spanning three studio efforts, helmed by lead vocalist’s Kelsey Wilson et Alexander Beggins. It’s to their credit that the group’s gorgeous incandescence has remained so charmingly attractive throughout their still young career, capturing the attention of producer Ben Kweller, and signing with Dualtone Records in April 2015, while gradually expanding their sound with additional pop elements in 2015 release, Fools.
Avec L'enfant sauvage’s fourth effort, Expectations, the group opens things with familiar territory; introductory track ‘Alex’ establishes the perky acoustic instrumentals and Wilson/Beggins dynamic so appropriate to the group’s style, before easing casually into ‘Eggshells’ gentle saunter, while ‘Back & Forth’ kicks things into a more upbeat, jazz-inspired backbone. In terms of actual impact, it’s a satisfactory start to the proceedings, albeit perhaps a little too safe; all three are fine, well produced tracks, but familiar ground is certainly being treaded and it really isn’t until ‘Think It Over’ hits that Expectations’ limited personality really starts to emerge.
Gearing itself towards more contemporary pop influences, while embellished with groovy funk-esque guitar riffage, ‘Think It Over’ keeps things gracefully moving along, while moodier strings and brass elements are peppered throughout. Lyrically, the track cautiously explores the intimate uncertainty of fresh perspective in the face of a failed relationship, alongside the tentative steps forward, and temptation to step back;
“Well, damn, I think it’s done.
Take it back, turn around, I start all over again.
He’ll start to pack up, and she’ll pretend she’s sorry.
‘Wait babe, can’t we be friends?’”
Continuing onwards through Expectations, much of the instrumentation still grounds itself in already established territory, but some far larger ideas and sounds than previous efforts faire sometimes come into play, such as the slow-burning titular ‘Expectations’. The track builds gradually from an already confident stride to a final explosive leap forward, huge percussion and distorted Kelsey Wilson vocals roaring furiously in the final crescendo, accompanied by a subdued, underlying lead guitar section.
On a more reserved level, the beautifully haunting, acoustic-driven ‘Sinking Ship’ stands easily as a gorgeous highlight for the record; with Wilson’s delicate delivery of “feel like wasting time with you, see the rising tide, know it’s only a matter of time”, the track gently drifts by until finally entering a section of eerie submerged ambiance, similar to the claustrophobic nature of being underwater. Another fantastic use of atmosphere comes in the form of ‘My Town’, opening in a warm, dramatic fashion into a massive bassline and electric guitar drenched in reverb, the track steadily builds into a huge chorus, and Kelsey Wilson’s retaliatory deliverance of one of Expectation’s most captivating vocal performances;
“Take it back, burn it down – oh you bring your body bag
I know you’re right, just hurts my pride – because I gave you all I had.”
Unfortunately, despite some truly spectacular moments, Expectations’ greatest weakness is one of simple complacency; sure, ‘The One’ is pretty and ‘Alex’ is charming enough, and ‘Follow Me’ is undeniably beautiful in its own right, few moments on the album stand out to meet the same calibre of ‘Sinking Ship’, ‘Think It Over’ or ‘Expectations’. While there isn’t any truly poor material to be found on Expectations, a sense of the band perhaps being a little too comfortable in their own skin, alongside a slightly overlong running time at 48 minutes, renders L'enfant sauvage’s fourth effort something perfectly listenable, yet falling short of the mark when it could have been so much more.