Wyvern Lingo: Wyvern Lingo review – Sensual, beat-driven, R&B-flavoured pop
They say a rolling stone gathers no moss, which means Wyvern Lingo have done their share of rotations down the hill over the past few years. The Bray trio – childhood friends who forged lasting musical bonds as they grew older – have pretty much reinvented themselves in the past four years.
Listen to their 2014 debut EP, The Widow Knows, for example, and you’ll hear a promising band tentatively muddling their way to a definitive sound; their emphasis on traditional folk and three-part harmonies inevitably led to comparisons with the likes of the folk trio The Staves and the American indie-folk band Mountain Man.
Back then it might have been argued that Karen Cowley, Caoimhe Barry and Saoirse Duane were still living in the shadow of their fellow Wicklow native Hozier, having collaborated with him, sung backing vocals in his live band and toured as his opening act just when things were starting to get crazy.
Yet it wasn’t long before the trio began to assert their growing confidence, pursuing a new direction with 2016’s Letter to Willow EP, a four-track collection that landed somewhere between Haim’s brand of alternative pop and a sultry R&B sound that was both daring and bristling with potential.
It’s no surprise, then, that their eponymous debut album goes even further down that experimental rabbit hole. Songs from Wyvern Lingo have been released piecemeal over the past year, and although those morsels of groove and vibrant beats have tickled the senses, their fragmentary releases perhaps made them difficult to really sink into. But here, as part of a bigger picture, they make perfect sense.
I Love You, Sadie’s slinky, slamming beat sounds like something En Vogue might have cooked up in the mid-1990s, those glorious harmonies floating in and out of the melody. Maybe It’s My Nature takes a jazzier angle, and Dark Cloud strips everything back to voice and the fuzzy thunk of an electric-guitar riff. Elsewhere, Snow II is a funked-up love song, Crawl’s slinky beat is made for finger-clicking, and the closing track, When I Can (Rubbish) throws a light-hearted hip-hop skitter into the mix.
All three vocalists excel throughout, their voices interweaving with a natural warmth. If you didn’t already know it, you could guess that they have been singing together since they were kids.
One of the most striking elements of this album is Wyvern Lingo’s willingness to delve deep with their lyrics, be it personal or social matters. On Out of My Hands they challenge moral bankruptcy and collective apathy towards “junkies and scum, chancers and whores”, turning the stock answer of “I know it’s hard for a sorry few, but it’s out of my hands” into an impossibly catchy vocal hook.
Others tell more personal stories, such as the wronged lover on the defiant Crawl’s demand for an apology, Used’s mournful assertion that “I can’t be broken twice”, or the apologetic “I’m sorry you’re caught up in this mess / It’s not your problem to fix” on the post-break-up anthem Tell Him.
The fragile folk of Wyvern Lingo’s early years undoubtedly had its merits. Yet while that music sat back and shyly beckoned you forward, this sensual, beat-driven, R&B-flavoured pop plonks itself down on your lap, coils an arm around your shoulder and seduces you to listen to every note. Resistance is futile. wyvernlingo.com.