By Will Richards
We first met Jacob Slater back in 2017, where he could be found thrashing around dingy basements with a deranged energy as the frontman of the unhinged teenage punks Dead Pretties. Unfortunately, though not entirely surprisingly, the trio burnt out as quickly and furiously as they emerged. Slater then left London for Cornwall, where he spent his days surfing, embedding himself in the local community and picking up odd jobs as a labourer around Newquay. He also began writing music as Wunderhorse, swapping Dead Pretties’ fury for melodic reflection from a man growing into himself.
‘Cub’, his debut album with the solo project, repositions Slater as a rock’n’roll troubadour drawing from the likes of Neil Young and Joni Mitchell (the music he always listened to, Slater says) and desperately grappling back control of his narrative. It makes for an album that’s filled with fantastic revelations, namely the realisation that you have agency over your decisions and the path you choose to go down.
On ‘Cub’, this feeling bursts out of every sinew. On the prog-lite ‘Poppy’ Slater sings of wanting to “tear my mind wide open”, while his self-mythologising on debut single ‘Teal’ (“How could this happen, man?! I’m just a kid / I’ve got so much to live for, and so much to give!”) is backed up by skipping heartland rock that furthers this sense of forward motion.
Aside from Slater’s personal narrative, ‘Cub’ stands on its own two feet as a fantastically catchy and strong rock album. ‘Leader Of The Pack’ shuffles along with the flavour of Led Zeppelin, while ‘Purple’ is a soaring ode to love with more than a hint of Elliott Smith in its DNA. Elsewhere, ‘90s Radiohead are a reference point on the gorgeous ‘Mantis’, while ‘Teal’ could have been written by Sam Fender, one of Wunderhorse’s new famous fans.
There’s still plenty that Slater has to get off his chest, though. ‘Cub’ isn’t the sound of punk fury being replaced by complete bliss: the album still fizzes with grit and energy, but is presented from a more solid base and with both eyes fixed on the future. On closer ‘Epilogue’, he sings of his new life by the sea (“When I go back there, and breathe the clean air”) and finally puts some old demons to rest (“Times are changing / the feeling’s fading”). Crystallising this breakthrough in sound, the track falls away before a gargantuan avalanche of noise completes the journey.
‘Cub’ is a goodbye to the Jacob Slater we previously knew, and a hugely exciting welcome to a songwriter finally becoming himself. You can envisage him making records like this for decades to come.
Record label: Communion
Release date: October 7