The name is Romanian for ‘red wolf’ (and inspired by Sufjan Stevens’ The Sleeping Red Wolves), the Philadelphia duo comprises Jonathan Stewart and Josh Marsh and, produced by The National drummer James McAlister, their second album, The Ranger, mingles elements of orchestral instrumentation, electronic and ethereal moods with their underling softly sung folk sound on songs that explore loss, change and the foundations upon which lives are built.
Very specifically, the cloud billowingly melodic ‘What You Need’ is about necessary endings and was written about Marsh’s impending divorce and the realisation that, while regrettable, the marriage needed to end for them both to move forward as he sings “I can’t bring you peace, I am not the air you breathe. I am not what you need”.
Beginning with an orchestral prelude, it opens with the achingly lovely ‘Come Back Home’, a song about how a home is about the people not the bricks and mortar that contain them, about mortality (“your father’s sick/And he won’t stop saying your name”), forgiveness and the acceptance of family.
The line “Sometimes the thing that made you leave/Is what brings you back again” finds resonance in the shimmering pop of the romantic ‘Gold & Silver & Light’ and “It’s strange sometimes/What you’re searching for can be there the whole time” Such introspection also informs ‘In A Crown’ with its underpinning puttering drum beat and muted trumpet and single piano note bridge where “I’m coming to grips with who I am, but not what I’ve done” and the swelling “I don’t want to admit it, but you’re right/It’s probably all my fault/All I want is to know” take it soaring into classic Snow Patrol/Coldplay balladry.
Providing the fulcrum between the album’s two halves, the title track is a pulsing synths backed instrumental with a decidedly Christmassy air to it, leading back into the acoustic ‘Young Love’ and another reflection on the past and not quite having the words to express feelings (“There’s a sound silent makes/For all my words I can’t repeat it/There’s a song and I want to sing/It hurts like young love/It sounds like home… always there/But always out of reach”).
That emotional tension is there too in the fear entailed in surrendering yourself to love is at the heart of ‘Wildflower’ (“Some days I fight it/The growing tide within me, and other days/I let it take me down/To the heart of the ocean’s depth”) with its nervy ticking percussive spine and graceful chorus melody
Opening with an orchestral arrangement, here featuring trumpet, before a chugging beat sets in ‘Dying Light’ is basically a love song from a father to a child expressing protectiveness (“I hope I get to hold you when you find out/Life’s not what it’s supposed to be”) yet also an affirmation of the reciprocal nature of the bond (“You’re the face that keeps me moving/That keeps me fighting against the dying light”), but ultimately a call to seize the moment and “Live your life without regret”.
It ends with just the two of them on the simple, ethereal, whisperingly sung ‘White Birch’ which, featuring a single repeated pensive piano note, returns to the motif of change and transience (“Is everything changing/Or am I just passing by?”) with the ineffable sadness captured in the line “I carved my name/It bled/Nothing was the same after that”.
You’re unlikely to find The Ranger given a prioritised media profile over releases by better known names, but do yourself a favour and seek it out, it will be well worth the effort.
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‘What You Need’ – official video: