Ripe’s debut LP celebrates looking inward and, truly, finding joy in the Wild Unknown

If you’ve ever been to a live Ripe set, you’re already familiar with the bombastic, intoxicating energy that unleashes from the Berklee-born seven-piece; this same energy is palpable throughout the group’s debut full-length album, Joy In The Wild Unknown.

Aptly named, the LP strikes a balance between uncertainty and hopefulness. The lyrics often express wariness but comfort at the same time, like the reminder that it’s okay to take care of ourselves on “Flipside”: “It’s alright to dive / with survival on your mind.” The songs also soften complex emotions, like heartbreak and imposter syndrome, parsing them down to valiant platitudes: “We try our best to feel okay / I feel okay with you” (“Follow Through”). This looks at these sometimes cliche themes in a fresh, more personal way. 

“One of the pillars of this record is the idea of exploring joy as an emotion of significant weight,” says frontman Robbie Wulfsohn. “To me, the Wild Unknown is that spot just over the hill that looks difficult to get to but potentially has the best view of the horizon on the other side.”

And Ripe makes excellent work of toeing that line.

An undercurrent of optimism runs through Joy, apropos of Wulfsohn’s vision of the “Wild Unknown.” Declarative, honey-rich horns drive the melody while atmospheric percussion keeps the rhythm and atmosphere light. The rhythms are buoyant and rife with layers of masterful composition–most of the tracks trade melodic duties between vocals and instruments, paying equal attention to all of the working parts of the band. The band members break into a fluttering guitar break here, or rip into an anthemic drum fill there, giving Ripe a chemistry apparent through their sound alone.

“Downward” is the most vocal-centric song on Joy, with only Wulfsohn’s voice and a twinkling acoustic guitar to usher in the song. It unfolds into the warm, slightly funky, open arms of the full band while Wulfsohn sings, “This love keeps pulling me downward.” Each repetition of the line swells, as if feeling more sure of itself, until he adds, “And I don’t mind the fall.” His voice has a rasp that only adds to the velvety timbre; Wulfsohn’s performance showcases his unrelentingly raw honesty.

For each rousing, inspirational track and love declaration within Joy, the doubt still lingers. Billed only two down from “Downward” is the album’s breakup song, “Passerby.”

“If too much love is an overdose / too many times, I’ve come so close / I guess I’m still learning though,” Wulfsohn sings in the opening line, his voice wavering in its upper register; then the band enters and his voice regains strength as he declares, “I will not be a passerby.” The instrumental break about two-thirds into the song and the following layered uttering of the chorus illustrates Wulfsohn picking himself back up and moving on after the breakup.

“From…ending relationships because you feel you will be better on the other side to cavalierly kissing your hometown goodbye…the moment of a ‘breakup’ contains multitudes in it but also feels kind of similar every time I do it,” Wulfsohn says.

Where most breakup songs easily wax saccharine, Wulfsohn succeeds in examining the more nuanced feelings that accompany heartbreak, like feeling like a fleeting moment – a passerby – in someone’s life.

There’s a brief sound clip from a guided meditation at the end of “Passerby,” which Wulfsohn says is “[him] trying to honor both list-style slam poetry, the monologue that plays piecemeal throughout To Pimp A Butterfly, and the lessons I’ve stolen from my favorite books.” He added, “That’s all you’re gonna get from me on that.”

While we may never pry all of the details out of Wulfsohn, it’s safe to say that Lamar’s award-winning album turned his own genre on its head, and Ripe’s latest LP seeks to do the same, acting as more than a funk band, not exactly a rock band, all while keeping in mind those who drove them to create it.

Though Ripe used to approach album-making as an emulation of their live shows, they looked at Joy more individually, treating it as its own project: “We wanted our album to feel complementary to the live show rather than identical.” While their concerts are effervescent, making the audience feel at home, Joy embraces the art of introspection and the results are clear in its sound: there’s a cathartic freedom in wearing your heart on your sleeve.

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