Natalie Newbold returns with another batch of strong indie-pop songs on “This Is Fine,” the debut full-length of her latest band, Well Wisher.
I was a big fan of dollys and, like thousands of others, was sad when they broke up. Then, when I first saw Natalie Newbold’s latest band, Well Wisher, in August 2017, I was even more disappointed because it seemed as if she had traded in her delicious indie-pop hooks for a harder AC/DC-Black Sabbath sound to which she was lending surprisingly good guitar chops instead of the excellent drumming style that made dollys so unique.
With Well Wisher’s debut full-length, This Is Fine, I’m relieved and delighted that Natalie came to her pop senses.
The band’s debut for the L.A.-based indie 6131 Records maintains some of the volume, thickness and crunch of that harder, heavier sound, but with a rich indie-pop sensibility. The results sound like dollys grown up, saddened by the world and their own personal situations, but toughened up by them and expressing that toughness with a heartier edge.
I love the way the band — also guitarist Lucas Dalakian, bassist Lynsey Vandenburg and drummer Anthony D’Arcangelo — stop on a dime to accentuate a certain part of a song, and also the way some songs build from a sweet, soft start into a magnificent mash-up reminiscent of Nirvana.
I’m also happy that former dollys bassist/co-songwriter Erik Kase Romero was behind the board on yet another outstanding production by him. Captured in an Airbnb rented in the Poconos, This Is Fine features many of Romero’s signature nuances, such as bouncy bass lines and sweet gang vocals. I guess we’ve gotten to the point where we can call them “Romero touches,” at least on a regional level.
If you don’t know the story behind the breakup of dollys, I’m not going to share it here, but I will say that Natalie frequently references the emotional push ‘n’ pull of the resulting sadness, vindictiveness and appreciation. With an album cover that also depicts those emotions via a doll on fire, all 10 songs on This Is Fine are fantastic, but there are four in particular that I really love and prove what an exceptional songwriter Natalie is:
• “Why Not You,” a fascinating, slow-building emotional mine about wondering why the subject can’t get with the program, then realizing it’s not the subject, but the protagonist, who’s the problem. This song has two of the album’s best lines — “With every breath you exhale, I’m bankrupted” and “I felt wrong for so long dreaming of what could be” — and ends with a weary but venomous vocal wail.
• “I Know Better,” the album’s first single and one of those infectious bits of Newbold confection that you just can’t get out of your head.
• “All My Love,” perhaps the most venomous of the breakup songs, which finds Natalie voicing anger over the self-pity that inspired defamation against her as she opens with a waif-like vulnerability. The song has a similar melody to the closing of the previous track, “Leave Me Like You,” and the telling lines, “Here is another sad song to kill the last one. I don’t want to feel sorry for myself.” Yet it ends with a blast of confidence and strength.
• “Half Bad,” perhaps the most delicious, dollys-like track, with a pop groove underneath a sense of melancholy, like a cross between The Jam and The Smiths, yet ironically with a reference to the burning doll on the album cover.
All the songs should translate well live, especially during Well Wisher’s record release party on Oct. 6 at Asbury Park Brewery with ManDancing, latewaves and Slingshot Dakota. Other tour dates include Oct. 11 at FM Bar in Jersey City; Oct. 14 at Grand Exchange in New Brunswick, and Nov. 11 at Gold Sounds in Brooklyn, as well as stops in Pennsylvania, Delaware and Virginia.
Bob Makin is the reporter for MyCentralJersey.com/entertainment and a former managing editor of The Aquarian Weekly, which launched this column in 1988. Contact him at firstname.lastname@example.org. And like Makin Waves at facebook.com/makinwavescolumn.