Released: December 3, 2021
Wild Type Droid, Failure’s sixth overall full-length, just might be the band’s most focused, artistically-potent release to date. Hot take? Maybe, but trust me, I took notes, and I’m more than happy to show my work.
First, some context: there was a period following their late-’90s hiatus where ‘Failure’ seemed destined to exist as a mere footnote in the annals of alt-rock history (a notable example of ahead-of-the-curve-itus). Be it their underappreciated Steve Albini-produced debut (released a year before Nirvana’s In Utero) or the myriad of issues plaguing their third (and final-ish) release, Fantastic Planet, the stars refused to align. Following their breakup in 1997, multi-instrumentalists Greg Edwards and Ken Andrews went their separate ways. In the process, they spawned a handful of well-received projects (Autolux, anyone?) that only seemed to add to the ‘space rock’ juggernaut’s ever-growing legend.
Eventually, bygones were dismissed, and Failure reconvened. And now, for the first time since their reunion nearly a decade ago, Failure has opted to set aside the ‘Fantastic Planet’ template–something underscored by a passing glance at the ‘Wild Type Droid’ track listing. Gone are the instrumental segues and astronomical imagery-laden song titles. That’s not to say that 2015’s The Heart is a Monster or the 2018 follow-up (In the Future…) were exercises in diminishing returns—both albums are powerful statements that stand amongst the band’s best work. Still, Failure has arguably spent the past decade riding the mile-high wave created by their criminally underrated (and critically reevaluated) 1996 masterpiece.
Wild Type Droid, however, marks a clean break with the L.A. trio’s past glories. As mentioned above, the record is a refreshingly concise collection of stand-alone songs that refuses to overstay its welcome. Not only does Failure sound inspired, it feels like they had a ton of fun crafting this record. Album-opener “Water With Hands,” with its angular groove and slinky guitar line, makes for a perfect introduction to the record. The lead-off single “Headstand” and the follow-up “A Lifetime of Joy” further solidify the trio’s commitment to experimentation, sidestepping arena-rock antics in favor of effects pedals and that ever-present Kellii Scott back-beat. That’s not to say that Wild Type Droid doesn’t rock, because it does (especially on tracks like “Submarines” and “Mercury Mouth”), but Edwards and Andrews tether the album’s more upbeat moments to hypnotic bass-lines as opposed to fist-pounding riffs.
Setting aside the requisite head-nodding anthems, Wild Type Droid is sustained by the strength of its more subdued moments. There are haunting acoustic guitars (“Bring Back the Sound”), massive, shimmering chords (“Bad Translation”), and even a pensive epic (“Half Moon”). For his part, Ken Andrews is once again in fine form. While his distinct vocals have often felt like the band’s fourth instrument, the song “Long Division” contains one of the best vocal performances of his career. At just over five minutes, it’s the album’s longest track and easily one of Failure 2.0’s finest moments. It’s also one of the few songs that one could easily slide onto ‘Fantastic Planet’ or ‘Magnified.’
To that point, when discussing the latest release of any band, the temptation exists to immediately ascertain a ranking within the context of the band’s catalog. Of course, lists are an exercise in subjectivity, and for that reason, I tend to avoid words such as ‘best’ like the plague (fingers crossed). So regardless of what Failure release you have at the top of your personal rankings, Wild Type Droid is, if nothing else, a welcome addition to the discussion.