It’s happened to me annually. Every time Daytrotter‘s Barnstormer tour hits the road,  I walk away from my barn or barns of choice with a few things: A wicked hangover, a few bruises of mysterious origin, and a new favorite band of the moment. So when it happened to me just a few days ago, on September 1st in a barn in Dexter, Michigan, I wasn’t taken aback really.

For me, Barnstormer is more like a party than a concert. On this particular ‘stormer, I’d spent the duration of my day catching up with friends from across the country, flirting shamelessly with gorgeous guys, drinking beer in the unseasonable heat, and exploring the grounds, barely setting foot inside the barn itself until I heard something I couldn’t ignore. The sounds drew me in and those sounds were coming from the most sweat covered, energetic, passionate band I’ve seen… Well, possibly ever. That band was Wildlife.

I don’t know much about Wildlife, really. I haven’t read the press kit, or even visited their website. I don’t know how they met, when they formed, or anything about their creative process. What I do know seems to be limited to the following facts: At least one of their members was found on Craigslist; they hail from the great white north (Toronto, Canada); and they often receive comparisons to Arcade Fire and Polyphonic Spree, the latter of which I feel has to do with Wildlife’s stage uniform of choice (All black with bright blue armbands) recalling the Spree’s post-white-robe days. All of that I learned well after their set had wrapped up so when I wandered into the barn, all I knew about the band was that I hadn’t heard anything so damn great in… Well… Let’s just say it’s been a while.

You see, I all but lost my love for music. It’s something that’s happened slowly over the past few years but I’ve only really picked up on it in the past six months and since realizing that music stopped being fun some time ago, I’ve been waiting for a band to find me and remind me why I cared so much, in my younger and more vulnerable years. That band never came and I was left feeling permanently slighted by this fact, eventually believing this mythic “perfect band” would never find me and I’d languish, passionless and alone for the rest of my days. For a while there, I was languishing. Then I heard Wildlife.

Each of their songs was more bombastic and anthemic than the last, and the cinematic nature of the quintent forced me to turn to my friend Matt midway through their set and remark “This reminds me of seeing Arcade Fire four years ago.” Despite the fact that I had never heard the band before (I hadn’t even bothered to listen to their myspace tracks during my non-existent Barnstormer-prep), each song was so hook-laden that I found them immediately memorable and the band’s energy was so contagious that despite the hundred degree climate inside the barn (Or, as it could be referred to, “sweat den”), I couldn’t bring myself not to dance. Now, I won’t lie to you and say I was anything remotely resembling sober during any of this and even I found myself wondering if some of the remarkable set was induced by what I’ll refer to as “Barnstormer Magic” (also known as liquor in a glass jar) but when I revisited the album on the “morning after,” not only did it hold up impeccably but each song was just as rad as I remembered it being.

Wildlife’s debut is so solid that I’m nearly positive that Strike Hard, Young Diamond will end up as my favorite record of the year. That fact’s interesting to me because 2011 saw releases from two of my very favorite bands yet the first record that has legitimately excited me is Wildlife’s. What is it about Strike Hard, Young Diamond that has me ready to beg the border crossing to “take my American citizenship, please”? It seems that Wildlife has taken all the things I like about modern music and ran with them, creating elaborately appealing, hook-laden indie rock that recalls artists as far reaching as Suckers and Brand New, Modest Mouse and (yes, of course) Arcade Fire but never once sounds derivative of any.

Any album that starts out with a track as strong as “Stand In The Water” should be setting itself up for failure but Strike Hard, Young Diamond takes the bombastic ferocity of it’s opener and runs with it, never losing the energy that Wildlife exhibits so admirably at their sweat-laden live shows. “Stand In The Water” is a remarkable song that’s nothing if not a heartstring-tugger with lyrics like “I can be a good friend, I can be a good lover…. I can’t do both, but I can hope” (What?! Is this band singing about my life or something?!) and a fierce mandolin bit that wouldn’t sound out of place on an Okkervil River LP. When the song is reprised for the disc’s closer, its reapperance is a welcomed one, giving Strike Hard, Young Diamond a lovely bookended quality.

One of my friends that ended up as taken with Wildlife as I was updated his Facebook today to say that the only drawback of Strike Hard, Young Diamondis the fact that he’s been forced to “love” every track on Once you listen to Wildlife, it’s likely you’ll find yourself with the same white-person-problem. “When I Get Home” charms only the way a synth-heavy power pop anthem could. “American Eyes”, one of the albums few straight up slow moments, uses its gentleness to weave a lullaby instead of a lull. Later on, “Move To The City” utilizes Wildlife’s dynamic vocals to great affect, making the track perfect material for a group sing along.

While listening to Strike Hard, Young Diamond doesn’t quite capture the atmosphere of Wildlife live, the record still captures Wildlife’s sound perfectly, equal parts power pop and indie rock that at once has an edge and a heart-on-its-sleeve quality. Strike Hard, Young Diamond makes for a perfect soundtrack when quiet is the last thing you want. I mean, right before I wrote this review, I was blowing out the speakers of my friend’s S.U.V. with the disc in downtown Ann Arbor. It was awesome.

Rating: 8.5/10

Note: While I do think you should toss Wildlife nine Canadian dollars for their debut, commitmentphobes should take advantage of the fact that the band has the two songs you heard above plus one more up for grabs free of charge.

Additionally: The record is great but Wildlife live is better. If you check the band’s site, you can see that they’re coming no where near the U.S. again any time ever. Something needs to be done about this.

(Editor’s Note: Original rating was ONE BILLION/10.)

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