Between his work as a multi-instrumentalist and producer, Matt Martin is well acquainted with the Athens scene. He’s spent the past few years contributing in one way or another to various group efforts, including plucking bass in Dana Swimmer and co-founding Uncle Dad, aka Juan de Fuca. But it was getting to be about time he got the keys to a vehicle to showcase his own material, and now he has.
Writing under the pseudonym Wanderwild, Martin recently released his first collection of songs on an EP entitled Fleeting. The record is at times bombastic, and at others reflective, but it remains a solid lively record throughout. Athens has no shortage of guitar-rock projects, but Wanderwild sits on the pop end of that spectrum. That accessibility may turn some people off, but it doesn’t change the fact that Fleeting is an undeniably infectious record.
Wanderwild has been in the making for a long time. He’d intended to bring the project to fruition a while back, going so far as to record an EP in 2013, but decided to put it aside after joining Dana Swimmer. “I’m really glad I had the patience to do so,” Martin elaborates via email. “It just wasn’t ready yet.” It wasn’t until his first trip to SXSW in 2015 — while playing for both Dana Swimmer and White Violet — that he was inspired to refocus his energy on his own material.
Martin describes Fleeting’s recording process as “super homegrown” as he handled much of the production on his own. “I self-recorded the EP at my house, playing all but the strings and horns myself, and intentionally used the process to push myself from both a songwriting and production standpoint,” he says. By August, he had teamed up with Neal Warner and Henry Barbe to begin the mixing process at Chase Park Transduction. To dispel any confusion, Martin points out that Wanderwild is another case of a lone songwriter masquerading under a band name, but that doesn’t mean that he’s not welcoming of a group effort. “I’ve always valued creative collaboration,” he reveals. “So I chose to put my music under a band name rather than my own to allow for a more inclusive collaborative environment, whether that be via the live show or the design work or the photography and videography.”
Fleeting opens with “Optimist,” a track that finds Martin flexing his production chops with a massive, expansive sound that’s become a staple of industry pop music today. There’s not too many ins-and-outs to this song; he isn’t pushing any boundaries. But it remains a strong opener if for nothing more than the crisp production and a catchy chorus.
It isn’t until “Misty Morning” that the EP shifts in a new direction. It’s a pretty song, and it’s the first where Martin’s skill as a songwriter starts to peek out between the shimmering guitar tones and explosive drumming. “Natural Desire” follows the same path, but stands out more because of the lo-fi, stripped-back production style that’s not seen anywhere else on the EP. Both Athens and Atlanta are increasingly fond of their DIY cultures nowadays, and while Fleeting is a DIY effort in the most literal sense, it doesn’t feel that way, which makes the track’s grainy aesthetic that much more intriguing. In some ways, it proves that these songs can stand on their own by virtue of Martin’s songwriting prowess — that the shiny, polished production is simply a perk that comes secondary to the songs themselves.
Where the record falls short is hard to say. The production gleams and puts Martin in a tier all his own and his talent is readily apparent, especially for a first effort. But there are moments on the most aggressive parts of “Optimist,” “Evergreens,” and “Glow” that feel remarkably similar to one another. Harmonically, there’s not much on Fleeting that we haven’t heard before. Martin tells me he’s already begun recording his next EP, Freeing, and I’m interested to see if he branches out and challenges himself in terms of his sound. Too much digression can always hamper a record, but in Martin’s case, I think it could only serve to better showcase his talents and his art.
Wanderwild will perform on Thursday, April 21 at the Foundry in support of Walden (EP Release Show) and Grand. Doors open at 6 p.m. Admission is $5.