Anna Gilbert is one of the better musicians to come out of Eugene, ever. A 2010 winner of this paper’s “Next Big Thing” contest, Gilbert’s past work — represented on a half dozen albums — fits snugly into the introspective singer/songwriter mold, full of gentle harmonies, minor chord progressions and lyrics that capture the pained poetry of living, loving and losing.
But in a move that recalls the drastic about-face of Dylan going electric at the 1965 Newport Folk Festival, Gilbert’s latest single — released under the band name WYLDR — is a crystalline offering of pure pop confection, all bounce and beat and youthful yearning.
Opening with reverberating drums and soaring chords that recall the epic pop of Simple Minds, “Runaway” finds Gilbert exploring territory previously claimed by everything from ’50s bubblegum hits to ’80s new wave and beyond.
I’m not sure what they’re putting in the water up in Portland, where Gilbert has lived since 2016, but this is outrageous — or so I think, until I realize that the same artistry and sophistication Gilbert has always displayed in her songwriting is equally at work in WYLDR.
So, what’s up? Is WYLDR some sort of David Bowie shape-shifter move?
“Ha, yes, it might be,” Gilbert tells me. “To be honest, WYLDR is the type of music I’ve always wanted to make, and it’s the kind of band I always dreamed of starting. I can say with confidence that WYLDR is the truest reflection of who I feel I am as an artist right now.”
Gilbert will follow “Runaway” with another single, “Reckless,” which drops March 11, and then “Starlight” on May 11, all as part of an EP capturing her new artistic direction.
Taken together, these WYLDR releases could serve as the soundtrack for some forgotten John Hughes rom-com — catchy and moody, and full of the combined promise and heartache of a blue-lit dance floor on a Friday night. In other words, pop music at its best.
“I grew up on pop,” Gilbert says. “I love pop music. I wanted to make pop tunes that were both throwback and modern, songs that had a kind of nostalgic, prom-night desperation.”
Beyond the fact that, deep down and whether we admit it or not, we all love pop music, it’s a mistake to think of this music as simple.
“I think there is a misnomer about writing pop,” Gilbert tells me. “Writing pop music can be even more difficult because the art of pop music writing is trying to say something profound, with a vibe, energy and style, in a simple, concise way.”
And beneath the sugar-sweet veneer, Gilbert’s trademark lyricism and immaculate musicianship are still very much evident in WYLDR. “I think people who are fans of my music will actually enjoy WYLDR, because the vocal is still featured and very present in the mix,” she says. “Pop has changed a lot, and there are some amazing creators making great music in a non-commercial-pop way.”
Next up for WYLDR, Gilbert says, is a full album and tour, as soon as this year — including a homecoming to Eugene. Stay tuned.
You can check out WYLDR’s music on services like Spotify and Apple Music, and upcoming shows at wyldrpop.com or Instagram @wyldr_music.