Boy Scouts, “Wayfinder”
Not just anyone could pull off a song like “Charlotte.” It comes about halfway through Wayfinder, the latest album from Boy Scouts—the project of Oakland singer-songwriter Taylor Vick—and it comes from a narrator looking back on a 50-year romance. In the hands of a lesser artist, that setup could easily be overbearing and maudlin. Coming from Vick, it’s sweet but never saccharine. It builds up masterfully, starting with slow strumming and sustained Hammond organ tones before bringing in bass, backup vocals, soft string scratches, and cymbal resonance—an understated, cinematic arrangement that tenderly just kind of trails off.
Vick excels at all things bittersweet and open-ended as Wayfinder meditates on love and mortality, as well as mental health (“I’d figure out how to rewire my brain / If only I had the money,” she sings on the wryly frustrated “That’s Life Honey”). For all its open-endedness, though, it’s also Vick’s cleanest-sounding record to date. Since signing to ANTI- Records and linking up with co-producer Stephen Steinbrink, she’s continued a slow roll forward through lilting, mid-tempo tunes, only now with a higher-fi sensibility (as of 2019’s Free Company). And as the production gets slicker, she’s also gotten more adept at filling the space around her nylon string compositions; this time around, there’s less electric rhythm guitar, making more room for California folk-rock vocal stacks and quavering organs. That means more depth of melancholy harmony on the one hand, and more sparkle when the song calls for it (like the transcendent, cello-laden peak of “Didn’t I”).
The rhymes flow easily—sometimes a little too easily, as on “The Floor,” which goes “Floor / Door / More / Before”—but snappier lines and more satisfying instrumentals always butt up against unanswered questions and unfulfilled longings, and that tension keeps Wayfinder afloat. As Vick sings on the final track, “Play pretend in model homes / Acting like this one’s our own / We don’t say, but we both know / Deep down, there’s always more to show.” Wayfinder is chock full of memorable melodies, like the killer hook “Lighter,” and good vibes, like the tambourine and piano groove on “Big Fan.” But the real beauty of an album about questions is you’re bound to come away from it with different answers each time—Wayfinder is one you may need to bring along with you again and again.